China's law reform

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The city of Wenzhou is at the last step of a two-decade persistent pursuit as a draft revision to the Legislation Law expands legislative power from 49 Chinese cities to at least 284 nationwide.

Zheng Xuejun, a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC) from east China's Zhejiang Province and newspaper editor based in Wenzhou city, has taken it a personal mission to lobby for the city's legislative power.

"I feel a responsibility to carry on what previous lawmakers from Wenzhou worked hard for," Zheng said. She raised the issue three times in person to top legislator Zhang Dejiang.


Known for its vigorous private business and strong entrepreneurship tradition, Wenzhou is often at the frontline of trying bold economic reform policies. A pilot project of legalized private lending, in operation in Wenzhou, had not been endorsed by the State Council until a local credit crisis caused by underground lending in 2011 and a provincial regulation only came out after two years of the trial.

"New businesses come up and so do new problems. National and provincial laws are a bit late to respond to our city's situation," she said.

The bill, tabled for the third reading at this NPC annual session, is likely to be put for a vote this weekend.

Liang Ying, a member of staff with the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, told Xinhua that the provision indicates a changing perspective towards the national and local governance.

"It is not a simple change of a statute but shows that the central authority is delegating its power in exchange of local wisdom and dynamics, in face of serious economic restructuring and social reform," he said.

For a country ruled for more than 2,000 years by a powerful central authority, where even a county chief was directly appointed by the emperor at the faraway capital, the change is significant.

It accompanies the government easing control over the market. In this year's government work report, Premier Li Keqiang promised to exchange less government power with more market vitality.


However, the bill stirred a mixed feeling of excitement and worry among other lawmakers.

South China's Guangdong Province, also a test ground for reform attempts, is likely to see 17 more city legislatures empowered to make local laws.

"It can be a very good thing. It can be messy," said Wu Qing, an NPC deputy and veteran lawyer, at a panel discussion about the bill at the ongoing national legislative session.

Citing Dongguan City in the province known for its booming export industry, Wu said local legislative power might help the city to take a full advantage of a ministry-supervised pilot project on soil pollution treatment.

"If the city legislature can turn successful policies in the pilot project to a local law, the policies will become more permanent arrangements and benefit the city that has suffered serious soil pollution. Otherwise, it might take a very long time for a local pilot project to be incorporated into a national law," she said.

However, she also worried that not all cities are prepared for the new power.

"If, as the bill regulates, the provincial legislature is to review city laws, provincial lawmakers would be pretty busy and should start preparing themselves," she said.

Zhang Guifang, a deputy and senior lawmaker from Guangzhou city legislature, also noted that city laws may cover a wide range of topics and it is hard to draw a line between what is within their power and what is not.

Responding to the concerns, Zheng Shuna, deputy director of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee, told a press conference Monday that the bill set up "five lines of defense" against possible abuse.

The bill only allows the cities to issue local laws about "rural and urban development and management, environmental protection, and preservation of historical heritage and cultural values."

It also regulates that the power should be granted step by step and the provincial legislature will decide which city is suitable.

City laws, which should not contradict with national, provincial laws and central government regulations, must be approved by the provincial legislature.

As the last resort, the NPC Standing Committee will examine their legitimacy and correct improper ones.


Besides the delegation of legislative power, the bill also underlines statutory taxation, tightens check on administrative power and improves participatory legislative process.

Considered a foundation of China's legal system, the Legislation Law regulates how national laws, government regulations and local laws come into shape and which organizations hold the legislative power in the country.

The bill indicated a changing role of legislation since the law was adopted in 2000, Liang Ying said.

A decade ago a law was often an abstraction out of what have been done but now it is expected to be a step ahead the practice, accumulate consensus and help remove barriers for upcoming reform measures, he said.

Being reviewed by all NPC deputies indicated the significance of this bill, said Prof. Ying Songnian with China University of Political Science and Law.

"Without a properly-written Legislation Law, there is thin chance to make good laws. Without good laws, where should we start to realize the rule of law?" he said.

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