Legislative Transparency of China's NPC

In 2000, the National People's Congress enacted the Legislation Law, a statute intended to standardize China's lawmaking process and define more clearly the boundaries of legislative power in China. Under the Legislation Law, only the NPC and, in some cases, its Standing Committee, can pass legislation on matters relating to the structure of state organs, the criminal justice system, and the deprivation of the personal freedom of citizens.

The push to improve the quality of legislation has generated institutional change within the NPC itself. The Presidium sits at the top of the NPC's structure, and ultimately decides whether or not to permit draft laws to be considered by NPC sessions. This group also decides other logistical and procedural questions and lays out the general legislative program for each 5-year period. The NPC also has institutionalized the process of creating specialized committees to focus on specific areas of law. In March 2003, the NPC announced that it would establish nine specialized committees for the 10th NPC. In addition, the NPC now houses a significantly larger bureaucracy that drafts higher quality legislation and better supervises both the execution of NPC laws and the legislative efforts of the local people's congresses. This bureaucracy also has become more competent and specialized and has become a significant power center within the government.

Overall, the NPC has taken significant strides toward technical and professional competence. Although it was once common for laws to be drafted entirely within the State Council before being passed over to the NPC for enactment, the NPC has now begun to exercise more control over its own legislation, as was the case with respect to the China Contract Law passed in 1999. Despite these advances, the NPC generally tends to purposely draft laws broadly, leaving considerable room for interpretation by those charged with executing and enforcing them.

The NPC also has heightened its stature by opening the legislative process to outside experts. The Legislation Law permits the NPC and its Standing Committee to seek outside opinions on its legislation. In addition to drawing on the developing competence of its own staff, the NPC increasingly relies on the expertise of scholars, private sector lawyers and other outside experts during the legislative process. Still, there is little evidence that the public at large has much exposure to the proceedings of the NPC. While the Legislation Law contemplates the solicitation of opinions on draft laws through ``symposiums, debating meetings and public hearings'' and publication of drafts of ``important legislative bills,'' it does not require the NPC to do so. Without any provisions mandating publication, the NPC has little incentive to provide increased transparency.