Legislation expected to bring together a range of laws under one umbrella and go to a vote on Thursday
Proposed code to underscore Beijing’s commitment to private property but the key to its success will be enforcement, analyst says
A six-decade legislative marathon is coming to a close, with China’s lawmakers preparing to vote on a
that observers said would reaffirm Beijing’s commitment to people’s property rights.
On Monday, nearly 3,000 deputies of
, the country’s top legislature, assembled at the Great Hall of the People to scrutinise the draft legislation described as a centrepiece of the legal reforms undertaken by President Xi Jinping. The NPC deputies will cast their votes on the draft at the closing session of their annual meeting on Thursday.
On Friday, NPC vice-chairman Wang Chen said the draft would directly affect the lives of the country’s 1.4 billion people.
The new law, which covers property, contracts, personal rights, marriage and family, inheritance and torts, has received nearly 900,000 public comments since the NPC started its annual session last week. Most comments focused on issues such as renewal of land leases and how to handle divorces.
Wang Jiangyu, director of the centre for Chinese and comparative law at City University of Hong Kong, said that while the new civil code was largely an amalgamation of existing laws, its passage would “send a strong message to China’s private sector about [Beijing’s] political will to protect private rights and property”.
“While China seems to be tightening up on the political front, the enactment of the civil code in China’s most watched political event can still be seen as the Chinese government’s reaffirmation of respect for and protection of private property, a principle that was first officially enshrined in ,” Wang said.
Wang said the drafting of the code as “quite comprehensive” but enforcement would be the key to its implementation.
“After the NPC passes the civil code, Chinese courts will need to treat government bodies and state-owned enterprises as the same individuals or private businesses in civil and commercial transactions to ensure a level playing field for all,” Wang said.
He noted that legal reforms in recent years had focused on giving judges greater independence and curbing the influence of officials but the judiciary was still ultimately answerable to the Communist Party.
China has tried and failed four times since 1949 to pass a civil code. The first two attempts, in 1956 and 1962, were abandoned amid political turmoil.
Party veterans Peng Zhen and Xi Zhongxun, father of Xi Jinping, tried again in 1979, but shelved the plans after they reckoned that the country’s rapid societal and economic transformations made the goal unattainable. The fourth attempt launched in the early 2000s was also shelved.
Instead, the NPC has opted for a “piece by piece” approach since the 1980s, enacting a series of stand-alone civil laws, including those covering marriage, inheritance, adoption and contracts.
Wang Liming, chairman of the Civil Law Society of China, told
that the key objective of the code was to reconcile the differences in various legislation introduced over the years.
“Say someone was hurt because of a water heater quality problem. Judges can choose among the Contract Law, Infringement Liability Law, Consumer Rights Protection Law and Product Quality Management Law, as well as the relevant judicial interpretations issued by the Supreme People’s Court or the relevant administrative regulations of the State Council [in their rulings]. These [documents] are often different, and sometimes may even be contradictory,” Wang Liming was quoted as saying.
“Without a civil code, judges in the first instance might apply the consumer rights protection law, and the judges in the second instance might pick the contract law or the tort law, and that may lead to very different judgments in the end.”