I-1 Question: "Disclosure is the rule, and nondisclosure is an exception to the rule." This principle has been established as countries across the world seek government openness. How is China proceeding in this regard? What will it do to ensure that citizens, corporations, other organizations and foreigners staying in China have convenient and timely access to government information?
A: Based on other countries' experiences, China is promoting openness in government affairs in light of its national conditions. The openness plan pursued by the Chinese Government requires administrative bodies and agencies entrusted to exercise administrative power to make information held by them as well as how they fulfill their mandates known to the general public. It calls for not only the disclosure of government information but also the openness of the administrative power and its works. Today, government offices in townships, towns and counties mostly release information to the public on special bulletin boards. Most of the local governments above the county level and the central government agencies run websites and comprehensive administrative service centers. While offering services to the public, the centers are designed to help foster government openness. The 70 departments under the State Council and the governments of China's 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the Central Government are all working creatively toward government openness by adopting relevant provisions and local regulations and introducing news release and spokesperson mechanisms, with notable progress achieved.
Apart from making government information more accessible to the public, China is encouraging open information in departments of the Communist Party of China (CPC), legislative and judicial organs, village committees, business organizations and public institutions. With a view to standardizing the disclosure of government information, it promulgated the Regulations on Open Government Information in April 2007, which are set to take effect as of May 1, 2008.
The regulations not only put forth provisions on information to be disclosed by governments at all levels on their initiative, information that should be disclosed and the priorities of information disclosure, but also prescribe what information citizens, corporations and other organizations may apply for access to according to law. In addition, they legalize the nondisclosure of government information involving state secrets, commercial secrets and personal privacy. With these exceptions, all government information can be disclosed to the public.
In order to ensure the timeliness of information disclosure, the administrative agencies are required to compile, publish and update open government information guidebooks and catalogues. They should, in principle, make the information, whose disclosure is mandatory, available to the public within 20 business days as of the date of its initial creation or change. They are expected to release information in government gazettes, at press conferences and through various media outlets such as newspapers and the Internet in a timely manner. Also, information desks, public inquiry rooms, brochure stands, bulletin boards and electronic information screens should be installed in archives and public libraries to release government information. Foreigners and foreign organizations interested in obtaining Chinese government information can acquire it through these legitimate channels.
In addition, the Chinese Government has put in place a series of mechanisms to strengthen the supervision over government information disclosure and ensure that the citizens, corporations and other organizations have access to government information. They include the government information disclosure appraisal and inspection system, and annual report system. Members of the public are given the right to lodge complaints, appeal to higher administrative bodies and bring administrative lawsuits against nondisclosure of the information that should be disclosed. There are also mechanisms to coordinate the information release by different agencies and to screen the information to be disclosed for state secrets.