The phrase “rule of law” appeared 19 times in the report General Secretary Xi Jinping delivered to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on Oct 18.
In his speech, Xi said “the overall goal of comprehensively advancing law-based governance is to establish a system of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics and build a country of socialist rule of law”.
In fact, as Xi said, “law-based governance” has been actively developed over the past five years as an important pillar of the Four Comprehensives, the four political goals put forward by Xi. The other three are to build a moderately prosperous society, deepen reform and strictly govern the party.
In October 2014, the Fourth Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee made the historic decision to comprehensively advance the rule of law, which reflects the Party’s legal awareness, and its determination to more equitably distribute the fruit of reform and lead the Chinese people into a well-off society.
China has a long history of the rule of law. But its rule of law is different from what the term means in modern parlance.
The Party began promoting the rule of law in the modern sense of the term in the 1990s, in order to establish a socialist rule of law in the country and overcome the problems arising due to the market economy reform.
The rule of law means law-based governance, which is important to maintain social order, institutionalize the fruit of reform, and ensure the orderly progress of future reforms.
The CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping as its core fully understands the problems associated with China’s socialist rule of law. It has said the aim of the rule of law is to govern the country according to the Constitution, and the authorities at various levels must act according to the law.
The 18th CPC Central Committee laid out the road map for establishing complete rule of law in China, saying the people occupy the principal position in the rule of law, as its primary purpose is to protect people’s rights and interests, and to allow them to supervise civil servants’ exercise of power.
The decision of the Fourth Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee is particularly important because it says the power of the State originates from the people, and calls for protecting people’s rights and interests by improving the legal system. The National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, has issued a series of important legal documents since the 18th Party Congress in 2012, remarkably improving the legal system in order to better protect people’s rights and interests.
The election and criminal laws have been amended, so have the laws related to market economy and litigation, to ensure smooth social and economic development, as well as to address people’s concerns and grievances.
The revision of the business registration system and suspension of some clauses in the laws on joint venture operation and foreign enterprises in China have given overseas investors greater access to the country’s free trade zones. And the negative-list management model for trade, exercise of power and government responsibilities, piloted in the free trade zones, have now been implemented throughout the country.
The concept and promotion of the rule of law over the past five years have brought about qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, changes in Chinese society and governance.
The anti-corruption campaign, carried out in accordance with the rule of law, is a case in point, as it has helped clean the Party and the government, improved governance and effectively protected people’s rights to supervise the government, as required by the Constitution.
And the 19th Party Congress has injected new vitality among the authorities to make greater efforts to establish comprehensive rule of law in the country.
The author is a professor of law at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.