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The Rule of Law in China: Current Issues and Reforms
2014/11/28

By Consul General Zhao Weiping

At the College of Law of DePaul University

(November 13, 2014)

Professor Edwards,

Thank you for the kind introduction. Good afternoon every one. It is my great honor to be here at DePaul University and discuss with you on the issue of the rule of law in China. I wish to thank the International Law Society and the International Human Rights Law Institute for giving me this opportunity.

The rule of law is an essential feature of a modern country. While having made great progress in the past 3 decades, China still has a long way to go in building a country under the rule of law.

The recent fourth plenary session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China focused on the theme of "comprehensively advancing the rule of law in China" for the first time in the Party's history, which has demonstrated the firm determination of the Party and the Chinese Government in improving the situation of the rule of law in China.

The decisions made at the fourth plenary session have put forward a reform program aiming at forming a system of the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics and building a country under the socialist rule of law.

I don't want to read every word of the decisions, and I assume you don't like me to do that. I just want to share with you certain points which, in my opinion, are important for us to grasp the essence of the decisions.

First, the decisions emphasize the importance of the leadership of the Communist Party in building a China under the socialist rule of law as well as the need for the Party to govern the country according to law.

Second, the decisions reaffirm the core role of the Constitution in the legal system and asks for a strengthened implementation of the Constitution.

Third, the decisions give great emphasis on building a law-abiding government in China.

Fourth, the decisions highlight the critical importance of guaranteeing judicial justice.

Fifth, the decisions ask for the enhancing of the public's awareness of the rule of law.

Through the above-mentioned points, I hope you will get some indications of the future direction for the development of the rule of law in China.

I will not go into detail of the specific measures announced in the decisions. I have prepared a written summary of some of those measures. If you are interested in that, you may come to take one at the end of the session.

What I want to emphasize is that the announced measures will certainly be fully implemented. No one should doubt the resolve of the Party and the Chinese government in this regard.

As President Xi Jinping said in his explanatory remarks after the adoption of the decisions, "to advance the governing of the country according to law is a fundamental requirement for solving a series of major problems confronting the undertakings of the Party and the nation as well as unleashing and strengthening the social vitality, enhancing social justice, maintaining social stability and harmony and ensuring long-term stability of the Party and the Nation". President Xi's statement emphasized the importance and urgency of improving the rule of law in China.

If all the announced reform measures were implemented, it would represent great progress in the rule of law in China and significant changes would be seen in many aspects. For instance, with regard to building a law-abiding government, a power list for government will be introduced and the government will not enjoy any power which is not included in the list; a new system will be set up to examine the legitimacy of major government decision-making; a lifelong liability accounting system will be established to hold officials accountable for wrong decisions.

However, even if the goals set up in the decisions were achieved, China would continue its efforts of constantly improving itself in the governing of the country according to law. It will be a very long process. In this process, China will be keen to learn from the successful experiences of foreign countries, but will not copy the models of others. Every reform measure should well suit the reality of China.

Regarding the issue of human rights, the Chinese Government has always attached great importance to the protection and promotion of human rights in China and has made remarkable achievements in this regard. Respect for and promotion of human rights has been written into the Chinese Constitution in 2004.

Thanks to the economic miracle in the past 3 decades, the economic, social and cultural rights of the Chinese people have been significantly improved. More than 600 million Chinese people, or twice that of the US population, have been lifted out of poverty. The living standards of the Chinese people today are the highest in history with more social security guarantees and wider access to education, employment and other opportunities for personal advancement.

The Chinese people are also enjoying unprecedented civil and political rights. In terms of democratic election, the number of deputies representing the labor force in the National People's Congress, China's legislature, has been increased while the number of deputies for the Party and Government officials decreasing. The NPC encourages the participation of the public in legislation by improving the mechanisms of soliciting public opinion for drafting laws. Chinese people enjoy extensive freedom of speech and religious belief.

By saying the above, I don't mean that China is perfect in human rights protection. Instead, there is a very big room for us to further improve ourselves. In this regard, I wish to emphasize three points.

First, as the most populous developing country, China will continue to place the development rights of its people as the key priority.

Although China is now the second largest economy in the world, its per-capita GDP is still very low with over 100 million people living under the poverty line according to UN standard. The disabled population in China is nearly 83 million, even bigger than the population in UK. Further economic development provides solution for many problems confronting China.

Second, strengthening the rule of law is an important way to promoting human rights.

The importance of the recent fourth plenary session of the 18th Central Committee of the Party to the progress of China's human rights protection should be fully recognized. The implementation of all the reform measures adopted at the session will have immediate positive impacts on improving the human rights situation in China.

Third, clear distinction should be made between illegal acts and human rights.

For instance, in China, citizen enjoy full freedom of speech on internet. However, no one should be allowed to use cyberspace to spread rumors.

This year, a couple of Big Vs, or online celebrities, most influential commentators on China growing microblog sites, were sentenced by Chinese courts for committing the crime of rumormongering.

One of the Big Vs is Mr. Qin Zhihui. Prosecutors said in the court that Qin's widely spread posts included one claiming that the Chinese government had granted 30 million euros in compensation to a foreigner who died in a train crash in east China in 2011. Such a sheer fabrication has caused the public to believe in the huge disparities in how foreigners and Chinese were compensated after the accident, which had seriously harmed social order and violated the relevant law. It was only natural that he should be held responsible and given punishment according to law.

There are too many examples that the so-called cases of the violation of human rights by the Chinese government finally turn out to be the actions by the government in tackling the illegal activities under the pretext of human rights.

Now, I wish to briefly touch the issue of the on-going Occupy Central demonstration in Hong Kong, as Professor Edwards told me you may be interested in that.

Obviously, this is the latest example of disrupting the rule of law in the name of pro-democracy. The demonstration was not approved by the Hong Kong government and purposely blocked roads and highways in downtown Hong Kong. It is without any doubt illegal in nature.

The Chinese government has always been strictly abiding by the principle of "one country, two systems" and the Basic Law of the HKSAR. Concerning the issue of the universal suffrage, China's recent decision on this matter has honored every letter of the Basic Law which stipulates that "the method for selecting the Chief Executive shall be specified in the light of the actual situation in the HKSAR and in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress. The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures".

The so-called "genuine universal suffrage" as demanded by the self-claimed pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong in essence aims to bypass the nominating committee and thus goes against the stipulation of the Basic Law.

The public anger at the demonstration has been growing to its highest point with 1.8 million Hong Kong residents having signing a petition for the Hong Kong government to end the occupation by the demonstrators. On Monday, Hong Kong's High Court extended injunctions, which were originally taken three weeks ago, requiring demonstrators to leave two of the three protest sites. So far, the orders of the court are still ignored by the demonstrators. However, the rule of law will finally be restored in Hong Kong. That's for sure.

I want to stop here and I will be happy to take any question you may have. Thank you.

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