After 13 years, China is planning to amend its constitution again.
China’s state news agency, Xinhua, announced that the 25-member Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — China’s top decision-making body — has decided to discuss a proposal about amending China’s constitution in January 2018.
China’s constitution was last amended in 2004, under then-President Hu Jintao’s administration.
According to Xinhua’s latest statement, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who also holds the position of general secretary of the CCP Central Committee, presided over the Politburo meeting on December 27. The meeting decided to hold the second plenary session of the 19th CCP Central Committee — which is composed of the party’s 200 most powerful officials — in January, 2018.
“The main agenda [of the second plenary session] will be to discuss proposals about amending the constitution,” Xinhua said, without giving any detail about what the constitutional amendment will involve, exactly.
However, Xinhua’s statement did give away some hints. It said that the political bureau also listened to a work report from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) — the highest internal-control institution of the CCP, which is currently overseeing the anti-corruption campaign launched by Xi — and discussed the Party’s anti-graft work in 2018.
“The campaign to ensure full and strict governance over the Party and curb corruption shall not stop,” the statement said. “The CCDI should take the responsibility to supervise Party members, implement discipline and hold violators responsible under the guidelines of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”
As I elaborated in the December issue of The Diplomat magazine, the CCP is determined to issue a law to establish an all-powerful National Supervision Commission (NSC) – a new anti-corruption agency – despite strong opposition from Chinese legal professionals. These legal professionals argued that the new law, as well as the structure of the new agency, will be in contradiction with China’s current constitution.
On November 6, 2017, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee – China’s top legislative body – released a draft of the National Supervision Law. The draft law outlines the powers, functions, and structure of the proposed NSC, which will be the highest body supervising any “public personnel” who exercise public authority. The draft law grants the NSC supreme power, allowing it to consolidate existing graft-fighting powers vested in various government departments. The NSC will also share space and personnel with the CCDI.
However, a large number of Chinese legal professionals — including Chen Guangzhong, 87, a leading jurist, former dean of the China University of Political Science and Law, and a pioneer widely regarded as “the father of China’s Criminal Procedure Law” — have come forward to voice their deep concerns.
The paramount concern is that the draft law is blatantly in contradiction with China’s constitution. If the draft is approved, China’s current government structure will be fundamentally changed, which will directly contradict the Constitution. According to the draft, the NSC will be placed above the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate. Not even the State Council will be able to supervise the NSC.
Thus, the only solution to solve the contradiction — if the CCP aims to pass the law regardless — is to amend the Constitution first, according to legal experts.
Despite waves of criticism, the CCP has resolved to pass the law anyway and has performed its masterful skill in information control. On the one hand, Chinese censors have been constantly deleting information about the opposition aired by legal professionals online and shared via social media. On the other hand, China’s state media has been actively publishing articles and reports complimenting the draft law.
In November, Xinhua even published a 10,000-word article, attributed only to “Xinhua reporters,” explaining the NSC’s nature in blunt language:
[People should] accurately grasp the nature of the commission and fully understand that the national supervision system is a creative reform with Chinese characteristics. The commission is essentially an anti-corruption agency which shares space and personnel with the CCDI. Representing the party as well as the state, it exercises supervisory authority [over the country]. It is a political organ, rather than an administrative organ or a judicial organ. When carrying out its duties of supervision, investigation, and disposition, it should always give top priority to politics.
Under the current circumstances, it appears that the CCP has decided to use its trump card to quiet all those opposing voices: it will modify China’s constitution, as it is in full control of China’s legislative branch.
A Chinese legal professional who prefers to stay anonymous told The Diplomat that “as long as the CCP wants to pass the draft law, the Constitution must be amended. ”
“What’s even more troubling than this [amendment] is whether the authorities will take the chance to amend something else, such as the Chinese president’s two-term presidency limit written in the Constitution,” the professional added.