Western Media Are Missing China’s Biggest Story

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Madam Fu Ying at the end of the National People's Congress in Beijing.  (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Madam Fu Ying at the end of the National People’s Congress in Beijing. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Well-known journalist Nathan Gardels points out in his report on March 16 the biggest story of China’s persistent “long march toward ‘rule according to law’”, which this blogger regards as the greatest political reform that will lay foundation for China’s long-term stability, prosperity and democracy. The following is the full text of Mr. Gardels’ report:

Western Media Are Missing China’s Biggest Story
By Nathan Gardels
Editor-in-chief, THEWORLDPOST
Posted: 03/16/2015 11:37 am EDT Updated: 4 hours ago

BEIJING — In Western media, the National People’s Congress — China’s legislative body which just ended its annual three week session — is perfunctorily conjoined with the phrase “rubber stamp.” This characterization is less and less true every year and does a disservice to understanding the most significant historic shift taking place in China today: the long march toward “rule according to law” from administrative fiat.

One problem is that most journalists focus only on “events” as news. Process, which takes place step by step and evolves over many years, but which in the end changes the entire framework of political life, is difficult to capture in an attention-grabbing headline. It is also good news about “what works” instead of bad news about what doesn’t — the métier of the adversarial press.

To be sure, there are twists and turns along the road and many battles with authorities who would lose their prerogative to impose policies without consent or get away with corruption unscathed. But China is now a long way down the road on this score.

The active shift toward the rule of law began in the wake of the Cultural Revolution when anarchy overtook China and decisions, with often tragic consequences for individuals as well as the entire society, were made arbitrarily either by roving bands of hot-headed teenagers or by rigidly ideological top officials with no constraint on their authority.

One institutional push for rule of law came when Qiao Shi was head of the National People’s Congress back in 1997. As he told me then in an interview in the Great Hall of the People:

An important reason why the Cultural Revolution took place and lasted 10 years was that we had not paid enough attention to the legal system.

It was from this bitter experience that, by the end of the 1970s, we began to stress the need to improve the legal system and law, to maintain stability and continuity in this system of law and make it very authoritative.

According to the constitution of China, all power in the country belongs to the people, and the people exercise state power through the National People’s Congress and local people’s congresses at various levels.

To ensure that the people are the real masters of the country, that state power is really in their hands, we must strengthen these institutions and give them full play.

No organization or individual has the prerogative to override the constitution or the law.

One reason a consolidated push toward rule of law is happening today is that the current generation of leaders now in power, including President and Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, suffered through the Cultural Revolution and never want to see such a catastrophe ever again. Today’s leaders also know that the pervasive corruption which has accompanied rapid economic growth is so severely eroding society’s sense of fairness and equality of opportunity that the very legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party is at stake.

Indeed, I was told in Beijing last week by one high official that President Xi is deeply influenced by China’s classical school of legalism, which flourished during the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C.) when the various warring provinces were unified into one state. Legalism posits that the well-being of the state would be best guaranteed by clear-cut rules rather than the traditional Confucian reliance on private morality of officials.

In 1999, the constitution was amended to incorporate the phrase “rule according to law” and set out a path for the transition from a regime of administrative decisions to one whereby all policies would ultimately be implemented by legislation. For the first time last October, an entire plenary session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party was devoted to “comprehensively advancing rule of law in China.”
At the moment, the NPC does not itself propose legislation. Its delegates submit proposals based on constituent concerns to the party and the state council — the government executive body — which processes those proposals into legislation which are sent back to the NPC for approval. Since the process is meant to create consensus through back and forth deliberation and trade offs among competing interests, legislation is usually not submitted unless there is an expectation of its passage. But as Chinese society grows more complex with prosperity and greater participation, much debate indeed takes place — including about the role of the NPC itself.

As Xin Chunying, Vice-Chairperson of Legislative Affairs Commission of China’s National People’s Congress, wrote in the WorldPost at the time of the plenary:

The drafting of laws should be more often led by the Congress and the special committees instead of by ministries concerned — which may lead to legalization for the interest or rights of relevant government agencies over the society as a whole.

It is also important that legislation moves ahead of reform so that the new reforms progress on the basis of law and so that every major reform step is guided by law.

This year, as the NPC spokesperson Fu Ying told me, there was “heated debate” — no less than what has been witnessed in the West over similar legislation — about a new anti-terrorism law. The debate centered around “how to define terrorism” and “how to balance the anti-terrorism measure with human rights.” Another major issue concerned the shift toward imposition of taxes by legislation instead of by administrative decisions of the State Council. NPC members insisted, according to Fu Ying, that “the various categories of taxes that the government levies, who will be levied, how much and how to levy, must all be stipulated by the NPC.”

On corruption, Fu Ying said “the job of NPC National Committee is to treat the root causes by pushing forward the building of anti-corruption institutions and thus creating an environment in which officials dare not breach the laws.” As it has been, she said, “officials feel they can break the law. They are not in awe of the law, don’t understand the law or don’t worry about the law.” All Party members,” Fu Ying continued, “must study the law, learn the law and abide by the law. [They must understand that] all people are equal before the law.”

Certainly, the NPC is not yet the U.S. Congress. And from China’s perspective that is no doubt a good thing. The NPC will not anytime soon be second guessing the president on his foreign policy initiatives and sending their own messages to an enemy with whom the executive branch is negotiating, as is the case with the Iran nuclear negotiations. No time soon will the NPC try to unravel already passed legislation, as is the case with Obamacare. And the NPC will continue to strive toward consensus instead of engage in the corrosive politics of gridlock.

Just because China’s NPC is not mired in dysfunction like the U.S. Congress, doesn’t mean it is not advancing the rule of law.

Source: huffingtonpost “Western Media Are Missing China’s Biggest Story”


China parliament delegates speak out against corruption, red tape

Amid praise for China’s Communist Party and the government’s work report is an increasingly common complaint from delegates to annual parliamentary meetings – too much red tape and corruption.

The parallel convening of China’s parliament and its main advisory body is usually a tightly scripted series of meetings meant to show unity and how China is tackling its many issues.

But at this year’s gatherings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, grousing over administrative headaches and bribery in order to do business has risen in volume.

“We are helpless when faced with such complicated regulatory approval procedures,” said Li Shufu, chairman of automotive group Geely, which owns Swedish brand Volvo.

Li, a delegate to the NPC, noted an “important speech” by a senior leader that opposed behavior that interferes with market-oriented economic activities.

“But I think regulatory approval, by its nature, has interfered with normal market and economic activities,” Li said.

Chinese as well as foreign companies face multiple approvals to expand operations, or pursue mergers and acquisitions and other corporate strategy, including permission from the Commerce Ministry, Finance Ministry, National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), State Administration of Foreign Exchange and other panels, depending on the industry.

Attempts by both Chinese and foreign enterprises to do business in China have been thwarted by the number of hoops through which to jump and the time needed to complete them all.

Then there’s the bribery.

“The NDRC and other ministries are given the power for approvals so that only a handful of people manage the whole country,” said Zong Qinghou, founder and chairman of drinks company Wahaha, and one of China’s wealthiest individuals.

“There have been people who have gone to those ministries to hand over money because they need to get approvals,” said Zong, who is also an NPC delegate.

“I think this is a big problem that has affected our country’s economic development, and has also led to corruption.”

Comments by Li, Zong and others were reported by Chinese media. Delegates have likely been emboldened to speak out by increased talk by China’s leadership to crack down on the crookedness that pervades the country, from getting in to see a doctor more quickly to lining officials’ pockets for favors.

Lai Ming, president of the Jiusan Society, one of China’s non-communist political parties, said he also faults the convoluted bureaucracy.

“The need for too many complicated, opaque bureaucratic approvals is an important source of corruption,” said Lai, a CPPCC delegate. “China’s reform of bureaucratic approvals and self-restriction on power is an arduous task. We cannot be soft in cracking down on such vested interests.”

Prosecutors have investigated 30 officials at the ministerial level or higher for corruption over the past five years, Procurator General Cao Jianming reported on Sunday, according to the government-run news agency Xinhua.

Also on Sunday, China unveiled a plan to cut cabinet-level entities by two and dissolve its powerful Railways Ministry in a bid to boost efficiency and combat corruption.

Land grabs by local governments are another sore point brought up by at least one delegate.

“If I bump into the premier, I will say, ‘(if you) want to rein in housing prices, (you should) first rein in the government’,” said Huang Wenzai, chairman of property developer StarRiver and a CPPCC delegate.

“The government has been selling land at hefty prices so naturally housing prices will be high,” Huang said.

Source: “China parliament delegates speak out against corruption, red tape”

China: Petition urges NPC to ratify human rights treaty

Petition addressed to NPC ahead of annual session calls for adherence to international agreement, which Beijing signed in 1998

More than 120 influential scholars, lawyers and journalists have signed a petition urging the National People’s Congress to ratify an international human rights treaty, as part of the leadership’s pledge to promote constitutional rights and the rule of law.

The petition, addressed to the NPC Standing Committee ahead of the NPC’s annual session beginning next week, calls for the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to be ratified “as soon as possible”.

“There is still a substantial gap between the situation in China with respect to human rights and rule of law and the requirements of international human rights treaties … but now is the best time for our country to ratify the treaty,” the letter said.

Signatories include scholars Qin Hui, Yu Jianrong and He Weifang, liberal Communist Party veterans He Fang and Feng Lanrui, and rights lawyers Pu Zhiqiang and Xu Zhiyong .

They said they feared a society that did not value human rights or individual freedoms would plunge into “hatred and violence, division and hostility” if crises erupted.

The ICCPR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights. China signed the ICCPR in 1998 but has not ratified it.

The covenant commits its parties to respecting civil and political rights, including freedom of speech, religion and assembly and rights to a fair trial.

Professor Li Gongming , a Guangzhou-based commentator who signed the petition, said it was in the spirit of a recent push for rule of law and constitutional government by Communist Party chief Xi Jinping.

“In light of the leadership stressing that the country should be governed under the constitution and with the rule of law, I think ratification is a reasonable step,” Li said.

The petition is part of increasingly bold calls from intellectuals for political openness and government transparency. In December, dozens of scholars and lawyers urged the party’s new leaders to push ahead with political reform. Even more called on officials to disclose their family assets.

The petition said human rights were not just Western imports, but were ideals that the party itself had aspired to since its early days. The Chinese constitution says citizens enjoy freedom of the press, speech, assembly and association, and the right to demonstrate.

Professor Zhang Ming , a political scientist at RenminUniversity and a signatory, said he was sceptical about whether the new leadership would be willing to implement the necessary changes to conform to the treaty’s requirements. “The ‘stability maintenance’ regime has not ended, but then you can’t not call for ratification to happen.”

Xu Youyu, a retired professor at the China Academy of Social Sciences who is also a signatory, said: “It’s a matter of whether those in power genuinely want to safeguard human rights or not. If you want to, then you should ratify as soon as possible.”

Many copies of the open letter posted on mainland websites have been deleted.

Source: SCMP “Petition urges NPC to ratify human rights treaty”