Why do China's constitutional amendments pave the way for its governance modernization?
By Wang Shanshan
As the world’s largest developing country and second largest economy, China is geared for further steady growth and development. This requires a smooth path free of bumps or sharp turns. Amendments to the Constitution help clear possible bumps and build buffer zones for the road ahead. It is for this reason that the revisions have been endorsed by the majority of the Chinese people through a process of soliciting opinion, and discussion and deliberation.
In the pursuit of better lives, people want better governance. The Constitutional amendments mark a major move towards promoting the rule of law and modernization of China's governance system and governance capability.
Chinese Constitution. [Photo: IC]
China's Constitution, as the fundamental law of the country, was first enacted in 1954, five years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The current Constitution was formulated in 1982, shortly after the country’s reform and opening up drive, and was amended in 1988, 1993, 1999 and 2004. This year’s amendments are the first in 14 years. They do not change the Constitution at its roots, but aim at making it more up-to-date, reflective of realities, and in line with future trends.
The amendments codify what China has done right into the country’s basic law, laying solid foundation for better governance. Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era has been given constitutional authority. "The leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics" has been included in the Constitution. This reflects how Chinese people view progress in their lives over the past two decades. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer indicates 84 percent of China’s people say they trust their government, the highest approval rate of the countries surveyed. The figure may strike those suspicious of China’s rise as a surprise, but it’s normal for people in the country. The people find the country on the right track, with a government under the leadership of the CPC guaranteeing peace and steady improvements for life and striving to meet people’s aspirations. The path of development has been tested and proven to be effective, and the rational choices of the country and the people have been reflected in the Constitution.
The amendments ensure that the basic law keeps abreast of the times, providing a guarantee for modern governance. Back in 2004, the last time the Constitution was amended, China’s GDP stood at 13 trillion yuan, about 1.6 trillion US dollars. The number has increased roughly seven fold, surpassing 13 trillion US dollars in 2017. The country's development has outpaced the expectations of many both within and outside the country. This growth has made parts of the law irrelevant, which is why it is being amended to reflect new changes. For instance, the newly approved amendment adds a new vision of a five-sphere integrated plan for coordinated economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological advancement, while in the previous version, social and ecological advancement was not mentioned. China has shifted from target-driven, speed-oriented economic growth to a model that takes consideration of both the quantity and quality of growth and focuses more on people’s well-being and environmental protection. This change of gear occurred during the past decade, among many others, and will not be reversed, no matter what difficulties and pressures lie ahead. People know for sure where the country is going and its determination in achieving its goals.
The amendments upgrade the country’s toolkit for solving new contradictions and problems, consolidating the legal basis for modern governance. For instance, the amendments grant more cities legislative power. In 2015, China passed the Legislation Law, with a view to standardizing legislation, establishing a sound legislative system for the State, establishing and improving the socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics, safeguarding and developing socialist democracy, promoting the governance of the country according to law and building a socialist country under the rule of law. The authority of the law has been confirmed in the Constitutional amendment, greatly uplifting its importance. Under the amendments, the number of local provincial and municipal bodies with power to make their own laws has increased from 80 to 353. Their ability to govern will be enhanced with greater flexibility and agility. Governments will be able to carry out reforms within the framework of the rule of law and people will be able to safeguard their interests that are protected by the law.
Of course, the abuse of power will not be tolerated. The amendments fix loopholes and hold the CPC and the government at various levels more accountable. According to the amendments, supervisory commissions at the national, provincial, city, and county levels, which have been established, will be consolidated, with legally defined duties, liabilities, and protocols for an upgraded anti-graft task force. Over the past five years, China’s high-profile anti-corruption campaign has attracted worldwide attention. The campaign, described as “a war cracking down on tigers, crushing flies, and hunting foxes overseas”, has seen over 120 officials at the ministerial level taken down, 1.34 million township-level Party members and officials and 648,000 in rural areas punished. A supervisory network will be responsible for carrying out the anti-graft task on a long-term basis and seeing that the principle of zero tolerance is observed. What’s more, the network was tested in workable and fruitful pilot programs in 2017.
Other additions to the Constitution include adding the goal of a "great modern socialist country"; an oath of allegiance to the Constitution; a vision of a community with a shared future for humanity; and socialist core values. These changes enrich the Constitution. It’s understandable why the Constitutional amendment has won approval both inside and outside the CPC, as it has practiced democracy, and pooled the wisdom of the people. It embodies the aspirations of the people for a better life.
(The writer is a current affairs Commentator for CRI and CGTN,Deputy Director of CRI’s News Radio, former CRI Washington Bureau Chief)