Rule By Law Gets A Blueprint

THE ‘IMPLENTATION OUTLINE for the Construction of a Government under the Rule of Law (2021-2025)’, newly released by the Party’s Central Committee and the State Council, is a five-year blueprint for modernising and streamlining the country’s governance, so that policy determined at the highest levels gets implemented down to local level as intended.

The document provides a framework for implementing President X Jinping’s ‘rule of law’ campaign that lessens local officials’ long-standing customary sway over the judicial system, promotes legal professionalism and affirms the Party’s primacy in legal issues. This is policy that dates from 2014 and is a pillar of Xi’s efforts to institutionalise his anti-corruption campaign, itself a cornerstone of his leadership.

As this Bystander has said before, it is ‘rule by law’ more than ‘rule of law’ as understood in the West. The Party will remain the exception to no one being above the law, but the Party alone.

The new blueprint also includes lengthy sections foreshadowing the continuing tightening of regulation of much of the economy, including new or stronger laws covering national security, technology and monopolies. Scientific and technological innovation, culture and education will also be subject to new legislation, as is ‘foreign-related rule of law’, a proxy for extending Chinese law extraterritorially. Regulations relating to China’s digital economy, including fintech, artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing, will be reviewed.

None of that should come as much of a surprise. The Fifth Plenum, the Central Economic Work Conference and the Ninth Meeting of the Central Finance and Economics Committee emphasised the necessity of strengthening anti-monopoly measures and preventing the disorderly expansion of capital. That has been in open evidence across the tech sector from fintech to ride-hailing and e-tutoring of late.

Regardless of whether the label applied is ’a crackdown’ or ‘the strengthening of regulation and supervision to ensure the development of the economy is on a sound and orderly track’, no one should be under any illusions about the Party’s commitment to its overall political, social and economic agenda.

That includes redirecting business to serve China’s national interest as the Party sees it — and it especially includes the platform tech companies, which hold vast amounts of data on Chinese citizens and which were able to grow as fast and freely as they did thanks to the absence of state-owned enterprises in the sector.

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