From Guo Yezhou, Vice-Minister of the IDCPC and Chairman of CCCWS
The latest development in China is the 4th Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which was held just one month ago.
The Plenum was held at a time when China has entered a decisive stage for achieving the goal of completing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects (or what we call Xiaokang Society), and when China has come to uncharted waters for further deepening reforms. It was the first time in the 90 plus years’ history of the CPC, in the entire history of the People’s Republic of China, and in the history since the introduction of reform and opening up that a CPC conference takes rule of law as the theme. It was the first time for the CPC Central Committee to adopt a document specifically on “rule of law”. The lengthy document, to name it fully, the Decision on Major Issues concerning Comprehensively Advancing Rule of Law, running 17,000 Chinese words, is quite detailed — including 185 measures.
What does the Plenum mean to China and to its relations with the outside world?
First, it means a stronger role of the Constitution in the governance of the country. The Constitution is the fundamental law in China. To achieve rule of law, first and foremost, we need rule of Constitution. To realize law-based governance, we must first realize Constitution-based governance. In order to highlight the role of the Constitution, China has designated December 4th as the National Constitutional Day, and education on the Constitution will be carried out in the entire society to raise people’s awareness. In the future, all officials elected or appointed by the people’s congresses and their standing committees have to do one thing when they assume office – take an oath to pledge their allegiance to the Constitution. To ensure the due role of the Constitution, the National People’s Congress, which is the top legislature in China, and its Standing Committee shall play a bigger role in supervising the enforcement of the Constitution. In China, all the existing normative documents shall be reviewed. If they are inconsistent with the principles of the Constitution and laws, they shall be scrapped or amended.
Second, it means intensified efforts to build a government based on the rule of law. In the Chinese language, the phrase includes only four characters, but has very rich content. It means a government with well defined functions, clearly mandated rights and obligations; a government that strictly enforces the laws; a government that is open, just, clean and efficient; and a government that abides by the laws. To put it simply, in the future, the government must fulfill its due obligations and must not do anything not mandated by the laws. In due time, China will release a list of government powers, clearly demarcating the boundary line for the government, thus squeezing out the space for rent seeking.
You might have heard about the sensational corruption cases in China. In some cases, so many officials of the same region or government department are brought down that some people call it “landslide corruption”. There are many reasons behind corruption, one of which is that some government officials have too much power in hand. To prevent power from being corrupt, we need to curb it. As President Xi Jinping has put it, “we need to place the power in a cage”. What is the cage made of? It is made of laws, rules and regulations. We shall intensify supervision and check over the use of government power, strengthen internal procedure control, and prevent abuse of power. We will strengthen institutions to ensure that officials dare not, cannot, and do not want to be corrupt.
Third, it means major reforms to the judiciary. A credible and fair judiciary is the last line of defense for fairness and justice in society. We do admit that there are many deficiencies in China’s judiciary. Judicial injustice and lack of judicial credibility are a serious problem. Some judicial officials are dishonest, handling cases for the sake of money or personal gains. Some judges even go two ways by draining both the plaintiff and the defendant. Deep-rooted reasons behind all these phenomena are the lack of a well-functioning judicial system, defects in the distribution of judicial power, and in the system of judicial protection of human rights.
Given all these problems, the Plenum initiated a series of measures to reform the judicial system. For Example:
— A system shall be built to ensure independent exercise of judicial power by the courts and people’s procuratorates in China. The Decision pointed out clearly that no Party or government officials shall ask judicial bodies to do things that breach their legal duty or obstruct judicial justice. Judicial bodies must not follow the instructions of Party and government officials who interfere in judicial activities. From now on, those Party and government officials who meddle in judicial cases shall be recorded, named publicly, and held accountable.
— The Supreme People’s Court shall set up circuit courts to handle major administrative, civil and commercial cases. The Supreme People’s Court is handling too many cases. This is not conducive to social stability, and causes inconvenience for the lawsuits of parties related. By setting up circuit courts, the Supreme People’s Court can decentralize power and disputes can be handled locally, which shall facilitate parties related. And the Supreme People’s Court can focus on formulating judicial policies and handling cases that can offer guidance for the general application of laws in the country.
— Efforts shall be made to allow people’s procuratorates to launch public interests litigation. The reason for trying to introduce such a system is that some government departments might have done something illegal or fail to fulfill their due obligation, such as on the protection of state assets and protection of resources and the environment. Such behaviors may not undermine the interests of individual citizens, corporations or organizations, but do undermine or endanger national or public interests. Previously, related governments tend to be free from punishment as no one launched litigation against them. However, in the future, prosecuting bodies might sue them in protection of public interests.
— People’s rights shall be better protected through the judicial channel. In the future, we will establish smooth legal channels for people to express their interests and set up systems to offer judicial assistance and protect people’s interests, so that the petition system can be put into the framework of law.
Fourth, it means a better environment for foreign businesses in China. After the conclusion of the Plenum, my Department, the International Department of the CPC Central Committee, for the first time held a briefing specifically for representatives of over 100 multinational companies doing business in China. From their response, we can tell that they are deeply encouraged by the Decision adopted at the 3rd Plenum of the CPC Central Committee and are keen to know what the 4th Plenum will bring to them. As a matter of fact, the 3rd Plenum and the 4th Plenum are closely connected and complement each other. The Third Plenum made a general design on comprehensively deepening reforms. In order to achieve the goal set in the Third Plenum and implement the design, we need to provide strong guarantee through rule of law. The 4th Plenum just offers such a guarantee. In the future, legislations and reform initiatives shall be better matched. All major reform initiatives must be based on laws, and legislations should also adapt to the needs of reforms and economic and social development. The policies and measures proven effective should be upgraded into laws in time, and laws and statutes that are against the requirements of reforms should be either amended or scrapped. Through the implementation of the measures in the Decision, the threshold for market access will be lowered; rules and regulations will be clearer and more transparent, law enforcement will be more just. From now on, governments shall not have extra-legal power, and must not make any decision that undermines legitimate rights and interests of businesses or increases their obligations without legal authorization. This means that businesses have the right to say no to the government. If the government wants to interfere in a company’s affairs, it must have the legal mandate. Otherwise, the company is not only entitled to say no, but can sue the government to the court. All these steps taken will help foster a better environment for foreign businesses in China. Recently the EU Chamber of Commerce in China released a statement on the Decision of the 4th Plenum, saying that the Decision has sent encouraging signals and the European Chamber is encouraged by the fact that the 4th Plenum’s Decision has reaffirmed the importance of the principle of “rule of law”.
Fifth, it means greater efforts to improve foreign related legal work. Over the years China has been one of the top destinations for foreign investors. At the same time, a growing number of Chinese businesses are going overseas. This year, China’s outbound investment might for the first time exceed inbound foreign investment. Meanwhile, a growing number of Chinese are travelling or living overseas. Coupled with that is China’s expanding global interests. The Decision has stated clearly that China will strengthen foreign related legal services to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of our citizens and corporations overseas and will rely more on laws to safeguard our sovereignty, security and development interests. China will be more actively involved in the formulation of international rules. China will also strengthen international cooperation to fight corruption, intensify efforts to bring those runaway corrupt officials back to justice.
Last but not least, a few words about the relationship between the leadership of the Communist Party of China and rule of law.
China practices a system of what we call “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. The most essential feature of the system is the leadership of the CPC. The position of the CPC is not self-proclaimed. It is the choice of the Chinese people. In China’s contemporary and modern history, visionary Chinese people did try to introduce systems of the west to China, including constitutional monarchy or multi-party democracy, but all these attempts failed. Only with the leadership of the CPC has China succeeded in revolution and development and come to what it is today. As President Xi Jinping has said, “the wearer knows best whether his shoes fit or not”. It is the Chinese people who have the biggest say on whether the system fits them or not. The position of the CPC is written in China’s Constitution, the fundamental law of the country. To develop rule of law in China, we must adhere to the leadership of the Party, while the leadership of the Party relies on socialist rule of law. The unity of the leadership of the Party, people’s role as masters of the country and rule of law is one basic experience China has gained for its success. The key for whether we can succeed in advancing rule of law is whether the direction is right and whether there is strong political guarantee. The leadership of the Party ensures that we are on the right course and offers fundamental guarantee for the endeavor. It bears on the interests and happiness of the entire Chinese people of all ethnic groups. Therefore, the leadership of the Party and rule of law are consistent with one another.
The year 2014 is a critical year for China. It is the 35th year of reform and opening up, and also the first year of a new round of reforms in China. Over the previous 35 years, the word mentioned most frequently is transformation – transformation from a planned economy to a market economy. In the next 35 years, the phrase talked about most shall be “rule of law”. We will work to build a new, standard, fair, transparent and orderly system of modern market economy. No matter how successful the model of the previous 35 years was, it is past tense now. No matter how difficult the exploration in the next 35 years might be, we will move ahead without hesitation.
We will succeed in the 35 years to come, just as we did in the past 35 years!