A draft amendment to China's Constitution that contains the change of "state of siege" into "state of emergency" will lay a constitutional foundation for the country's first Emergency Law, which law experts say will mark a major progress in social development after more than 20 years of market-oriented reforms.
The second plenary session of the 10th National People's Congress (NPC) is expected to discuss and approve the draft amendment when it is convened in March this year.
According to the draft, "state of siege" will be replaced by "state of emergency." This change will enable the country's top legislature to draft the Emergency Law, which has already been listed as one of the 76 laws in the 10th NPC's five-year legislation plan.
Prof. Li Shuguang, of the China University of Political Science and Law, said that Martial Law is normally enforced in a situation in which severe turbulence or turmoil threatens the country's stability and unification, or the safety of life and property. However, the enforcement domain of the Emergency Law is much wider, as it not only includes social turbulence, but war, natural disasters, public sanitation and economic crises.
Although China now has a Martial Law, National Defense Law and Flood Control Law, as well as Earthquake Control and a Disaster Relief Law, which lay out counter-measures for different emergency situations, the country still lacks a comprehensive Emergency Law, Li said.
Prof. Cai Dingjian, also of the China University of Political Science and Law, said that when enforcing martial law, military measures are usually implemented, while enforcing emergency law normally only needs administrative measures.
Li said that he believed that the idea of changing "state of siege" to "state of emergency" in the Constitutional amendment sprang from the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) crisis, which occurred last spring and spread alarm due to the lack of an emergency law.
An official with the Commission of Legislative Affairs of the NPC Standing Committee revealed that when, as early as in 1990 legislators discussed the promulgation of Martial Law, someone suggested changing the name martial law to emergency law. However, because the then Constitution used the word "state of siege" but not "state of emergency," the law's name was not changed.
The current Constitution, which contains 138 articles in four chapters, was formulated in 1982. "At that time, China implemented a planned economy, which allowed the government to allocate social and natural resources at will, while today in the socialist market economy, people's awareness of autonomy has been greatly enhanced. In such a situation, the government has no right to allocate resources as it pleases; it should obtain a legal basis to allocate resources when an emergency situation occurs," said Li.
At the first plenary session of the 10th National People's Congress, 34 deputies submitted proposals on the fight against terrorism and on unexpected issues on the legislative agenda. According to their proposals, the Emergency Law should be drafted and promulgated as soon as possible, in an effort to improve the ability of the government and people to deal with any emergency.
(Xinhua News Agency January 7, 2004)