New Draft Amendments to Residents Committees Law Generates Criticism and Commentary

January 18, 2005

According to an article in the Beijing News, Ministry of Civil Affairs experts and representatives of local residents committees criticized draft amendments to the Organic Law of Residents Committees at a recent hearing. Residents committees constitute the lowest level of urban government in China and; their members are elected in proceedings often subject to official control and manipulation.

Chinese government agencies often use hearings such as the one described in the article to elicit comments on possible changes in policy or law. Those participating in this particular hearing criticized such official practices as assigning key government responsibilities to residents committees and paying salaries to committee members. The critics pointed out that such practices undermine the independence of the committees, frequently reducing them to administrative tools of the Party and state.

With respect to the rights of migrants and temporary residents, one Beijing University professor expressed the view that the draft represents a "step back" from one considered last year. The earlier draft apparently defined "local resident" broadly for the purposes of the law by including those who hold residence permits (hukou) from other areas but have a fixed place of abode in Beijing. In contrast, the new draft appears to revert to a definition of “resident” based solely on hukou identification. About 1/6 of Beijing’s current population holds a residence permit from elsewhere in China, and discrimination against migrants on the basis of hukou identification is common.