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Legislative Power of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress

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The top legislative body of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the National People’s Congress (NPC), is now in session. This is the fourth session of the current 12th NPC. Having almost 3,000 deputies, the NPC full congress meets only once a year, pursuant to the PRC Constitution (art. 61). They usually meet in March for around ten days in the Great Hall of the People, located on the west side of the Tiananmen Square. The current session has a total of 2,943 deputies, and is meeting from March 5 to 16.

Great Hall of the People. Source:
Great Hall of the People. Source:

People may wonder how a legislature with so many deputies and so brief a legislative calendar manages to pass any laws. Actually, looking closely into the laws adopted by China’s NPC, researchers may find that many, and even most, of them are not enacted by the NPC itself, but rather by its Standing Committee. This includes the PRC Anti-Terrorism Law that took effect on January 1, 2016.

In fact, as the permanent body of the NPC, the Standing Committee is granted independent legislative power by the Constitution. Compared to the full congress, the Standing Committee is much smaller and convenes much more frequently: the current 12th NPC Standing Committee has only 161 members, who usually convene once every other month.

The Constitution prescribes the legislative power of the NPC and its Standing Committee, respectively:

  • NPC: to amend the Constitution and enact and amend basic laws, which include laws governing criminal offenses, civil affairs, and state organs (art. 62).
  • NPC Standing Committee: to interpret the Constitution; enact and amend laws other than those that must be enacted by the NPC; partially supplement and amend laws enacted by the NPC when the NPC is not in session, as long as the basic principles of these laws are not contravened; and interpret laws (art. 67).

The Standing Committee has its own legislative process.  Its bills do not need to pass in the NPC plenary sessions. After a bill is passed by a majority vote in the Standing Committee, the President signs and promulgates the law by an Order of the President. Legally speaking, the President does not have a veto or discretion in signing once a law has been passed by the NPC or its Standing Committee.

In a recent amendment to the Law on Legislation, a new transparency requirement was added to the legislative process of the NPC Standing Committee. The Standing Committee now must make public, for a period of no less than 30 days, all draft laws and amendments to laws under its consideration in order to solicit public opinions. This is the case unless its Counsel of Chairmen decide otherwise, which is empowered to keep draft laws from being made public (art. 37). The NPC legislative process, however, does not seem to be subject to a similar transparency requirement.

As noted in Kelly‘s blog post, Parliaments Around the World, our report on the national parliaments of China and many other countries, including Australia, CanadaFinland, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom is now available online. Enjoy reading!

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