II. Citizens' Civil and Political Rights
In 2009 the Chinese government continued to regard the protection of citizens' civil and political rights as an important part of the building of political civilization, and further strengthened democracy and the rule of law. It endeavored to widen the scope of citizens' orderly political participation and to safeguard their rights of being the masters of their own country.
In China the National People's Congress (NPC) and the local people's congresses at various levels are the organs through which the people exercise state power. The NPC and its Standing Committee exercise the legislative power of the state. From January 2009 to March 2010 the NPC and its Standing Committee examined 25 laws and draft decisions concerning laws, and adopted 18 of them. They amended eight laws, including the Electoral Law and the Postal Law, and further guaranteed human rights through legislation. Among the laws newly adopted, the Food Safety Law built a legal protective screen for food safety in an all-round way, and provided legal grounds for guaranteeing food safety, and people's health and security. The Tort Liability Law explicitly prescribed the fundamental principle that whoever infringes upon other people's civil rights and interests will be held liable for the injuries caused, as well as the ways of assuming liability, thus further improving the legal guarantee of Chinese citizens' personal right and property right. The amendments to the Electoral Law adopted at the Third Session of the Eleventh NPC held in March 2009 stipulated that the election of deputies to people's congresses shall be based on the same population ratio in both urban and rural areas, which broadened the representation of deputies to people's congresses. The amendments better embodied the equal rights of all citizens, regions and ethnic groups, and further improved the electoral system and expanded people's democratic rights. Now, China has 234 laws, more than 690 administrative regulations and more than 8,800 local regulations. A comparatively complete legal system with the Constitution at the core that guarantees human rights is now in place.
The NPC and its Standing Committee have effectively exercised their right of supervision, and their supervisory effect has further been enhanced. In 2009 the NPC Standing Committee examined and deliberated upon 14 work reports of the State Council, the Supreme People's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate on the response to climate change, on the promotion of employment and reemployment, on the improvement of enforcement in civil cases, and on the enhancement of supervision of dereliction of duty and rights infringement. It examined the implementation of three laws, including the Food Safety Law and the Trade Union Law. It also carried out special investigations on some major public investment projects of the central government concerning livelihood of the people such as projects of housing for the low-income people, of education and public health construction, and urged the departments concerned to perform their official duties in accordance with the law, ensure an impartial judicature and properly handle issues of general concern and related to the interests of the general public.
Multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are basic to the political system of China, which is a new type of political party system with distinctive Chinese characteristics and conforming to China's actual conditions. This system plays a significant role in China's political life. The National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) participates in the discussion of state affairs, puts forward opinions, suggestions and criticisms, and performs its functions of conducting political consultation, exercising democratic supervision and taking part in and managing state affairs through its regular work of making proposals, inspections, carrying out special consultations and investigations, and reporting public opinions. In 2009 the CPPCC National Committee filed 5,820 proposals, of which 5,218 were placed on file; it compiled and reported to the central leadership 267 reports on social conditions and public opinions, and conveyed 1,435 comments and suggestions involving the people's livelihood; it submitted 12 reports on its inspections and investigations on the development of small and medium-sized enterprises and on the economic and social development of areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, communicated with relevant ministries about the adoption and implementation of the inspection results, and endeavored to establish a sound system at the feedback stage. The CPPCC National Committee convened the Standing Committee meetings deliberating special political issues, and consultative conferences on major issues concerning the economy and people's livelihood such as "focusing on increasing domestic demand and maintaining rapid yet steady economic development," "speeding up the transition of the economic growth mode, the adjustment of economic structures, and enhancing sustained economic development," and "guaranteeing and improving the people's livelihood and promoting social harmony." In 2009 the special committees of the CPPCC National Committee put forward opinions and suggestions for the improvement of China's legislation and law enforcement. For instance, they proposed the establishment and improvement of the legal system and policies corresponding to the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy, based on an in-depth investigation of the implementation of the law, in order to better implement the law; they also proposed improvement of relevant laws and regulations, clarification of the legal concept of "abnormal appeals to higher authorities" and the "principal body for liability," so as to bring "appeals to higher authorities for help" within the jurisdiction of the law. In addition, they proposed amendments to drafts of laws and regulations on social construction submitted by the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council and other government departments.
Self-government at the grassroots level is a fundamental political system that ensures people exercise their democratic rights. In 2009 the State Council issued the Notice on the Strengthening and Improvement of Elections of Villagers' Committees, laying down standard requirements for election preparations, procedures, post-election work, organization and management. The notice was significant for guaranteeing just and orderly elections of villagers' committees, ensuring villagers' direct exercise of democratic rights in accordance with the law and promoting democracy at the rural grassroots level. In 2009 elections for new villagers' committees in 12 provinces and elections for new neighborhood committees in 16 provinces took place. Rural China's 604,000 villagers' committees have a total of 2.3 million members, selected through democratic elections in accordance with the law. China is working to promote the project of "making village affairs known to villagers," improve democracy in villages beset with long-standing difficulties in democratic management, and solve the problems arising from land requisition, house demolition and land contracting that may impair local people's legitimate rights and interests. China is also endeavoring to improve community service systems in both urban and rural areas so as to constantly improve the urban and rural communities.
The Chinese government is working actively to make government affairs public, improve the official spokesman system and information transparency, and legally equip its citizens with more rights to know about, supervise and participate in public affairs. Since the promulgation and implementation of the Outline for Promoting Law-based Administration in an All-round Way in 2004, China has made great progress in promoting law-based administration. The Chinese government is attaching more importance to legislation concerning social management and public service; it also puts more emphasis on public participation and certifying by experts. Administrative policy-making has become more scientific, democratic and institutionalized. The country is further standardizing law enforcement and promoting the responsibility system of administrative law enforcement in a vigorous manner. In 2009 the people's governments at different levels actively implemented the Provisions on the Disclosure of Government Information, and explored new platforms for government information disclosure by administrative organs. Governments at all levels also improved their press release systems. In 2009 the State Council Information Office, ministries, commissions, and provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government) held a total of 1,646 press conferences, and Chinese media and netizens actively participated in discussions of public policies, and supervised and criticized government actions. In March 2010 eight organs under the central government, including the Ministry of Finance, changed the traditional way of financial operation of administrative departments by disclosing their own budgets for the fiscal year on their websites. The public hailed the new move as an important step towards political civilization.
The Chinese government supports enterprises' and public institutions' efforts to improve the democratic management system with employees' conferences as the basic form, to make known enterprise affairs to employees, and supports employees' participation in management and safeguards their legitimate rights and interests. By the end of 2009 a total of 22 provinces (autonomous regions and municipalities directly under the central government) issued 27 local regulations on making known to the employees the affairs of enterprises or public institutions and on democratic management. By the end of September 2009 there were 1.752 million enterprises and public institutions with trade union organizations and a system of disclosing enterprise and public institution affairs to their employees, involving 127.512 million employees; and the number of enterprises and public institutions practicing the employees' conference system had reached 1.839 million, involving 133.387 million employees. The total number of grassroots trade union organizations had increased to 1.845 million, involving 3.959 million enterprises and public institutions; and the number of trade union members nationwide had risen to 226.3 million. Over the past five years the number of trade union members has been increasing by more than 15 million per year on average, and the increase in the number of trade unions and members has hit an all-time high.
With their right to freedom of speech on the Internet protected by the law, Chinese citizens can voice their opinions in a wide variety of ways on the Internet. The Internet is given full scope in China, and has become an important channel for people to obtain various types of information and voice their opinions. By the end of 2009 the number of Chinese netizens had reached 384 million, meaning 28.9 percent of the total population had access to the Internet, higher than the world's average level. In the same year there were 3.23 million websites running in China. China's websites attach great importance to providing netizens with services that enable them to express their opinions, with over 80 percent of them providing electronic bulletin service. In China there are over a million bulletin board services (BBS) and some 220 million bloggers. According to a sample survey, each day people post over three million messages via BBS, news commentary sites, blogs, etc., and over 66 percent of Chinese netizens frequently place postings to discuss various topics, and to fully express their opinions and represent their interests. At the same time, the Internet has become a new channel for the Chinese government to get to know the public opinion and amass the people's wisdom, and consequently exercise governance for the people and improve its work in this respect. The leaders of China frequently log onto the Internet to get to know the public's wishes, and sometimes have direct online communication with netizens to discuss state affairs and answer their questions. It has become a common practice for governments at all levels to consult the public via the Internet before formulating policies of particular importance. For each of the past three years, as many as several million items of advice and suggestions have been received through the Internet, providing valuable reference for the government to improve its work.
The Chinese government attaches great importance to the Internet's role in supervision. Governments at all levels are required to investigate and resolve in a timely manner all problems reported to the government by the public via the Internet, and to inform the public of the action taken and the results. The great majority of government websites carry relevant email addresses and telephone numbers, so that the governments can be informed of problems in their work. Over the past few years, a great number of the problems reported through the Internet have been resolved. In order to facilitate the public's reporting of corruption, dereliction of duty, etc., among officials, the central discipline inspection and supervision authorities, the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate and other relevant bodies have set up special websites.
Citizens have the right to make criticism and suggestions, bring to the attention of relevant state organs complaints or charges of illegality against any state organ or functionary. Through various channels, such as Green Post, special telephone lines, online complaints and agencies, the Chinese government makes it convenient for the people to petition, report problems and offer suggestions. Leading officials of all levels of the Party and government are required to read and reply to letters from the masses, open their offices to complaints from visitors on a regular basis, take responsibility for the cases they handle and be held responsible for any dereliction of duty, so as to guarantee the people's legitimate rights and interests. In 2009 the General Office of the CPC Central Committee and the General Office of the State Council issued three new documents: Opinions on the Regular Reception by Leading Officials of Citizens Who Come to Make Complaints, Opinions on the Regular Organization of Officials from Central Departments of the Party and Government to Visit Grassroots Localities, and Opinions on the Systematization of the Efforts to Sort Out, Check and Resolve Conflicts and Disputes. In accordance with the new guidelines, people with complaints not only have access to secretaries of county Party committees but also leading officials of departments at all levels. In addition, visits of officials from central departments and state organs to grassroots localities have been standardized, and the efforts to sort out, check and resolve conflicts and disputes have been systematized. In this way, the legal system safeguarding the voicing of public complaints has been further improved. In 2009 the number of letters from and visits of the people for petition dropped by 2.7 percent over the previous year, a decrease for the fifth consecutive year.