Backgrounders March 15, 2023

CHINA’S STATE STRUCTURE AND THE TWO SESSIONS

by Ratish Mehta

Summary

China's state structure follows a mechanism that differentiates its legislature, executive and judiciary from one another. The country's highest legislative body known as the National People’s Congress (NPC), acts as the power centre that keeps the state system intact and supervises both the legislature and the judiciary. Popularly considered as a ‘rubber stamp’ in the country's party-driven approach to governance, the legislative bodies play an important role in facilitating the deliberation process for law-making as well as providing an adequate representative mechanism for those in the minority. The State Council of China which is also referred to as the Central People’s Government is the executive body of the state structure and is also the highest state administrative organ that supervises administrative activities and implements the policies of the government. Even after having concrete teeth to its decision- making process, the legislative and executive body of China’s state system performs its duties in line with the party-led approach to governance followed in the country’s political system.

 
 

The state apparatus of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which follows a political system driven by a one-party approach to governance, also functions in a way familiar to the western concept of the state structure. It follows the state mechanism that differentiates its legislature, executive and judiciary from one another, although not as clearly demarcated as in many western countries. The highest legislative body in China known as the National People’s Congress (NPC), functions as the power centre that keeps the state system intact and supervises both the legislature and the judiciary. In the sections ahead, this backgrounder will detail the importance, functions and objectives of the crucial state organs that function as part of China’s political system.

The Two Sessions (两会)

The annual meeting of the country’s supreme legislative body- the NPC and its advisory organ the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), also known as the Two Sessions, began its sessions on the 4th and 5th of March 2023. Composed of newly elected delegates to both bodies- the NPC and the CPPCC function as deliberation organs and lay down the vision for progress for the upcoming year as part of China’s state structure.

Notably, this year’s session of the NPC also confirmed the reappointment of Xi Jinping as the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for a third consecutive term- a provision that was amended in the State’s Constitution by the NPC in 2018.

Popularly considered a ‘rubber stamp’ in the country's party-driven approach to governance, the NPC and CPPCC play an important role in facilitating the deliberation process for law-making as well as providing an adequate representative mechanism for those in the minority. The tenure of each of the organs lasts for up to 5 years and this year’s gathering marked the 14th session of the NPC and the CPPCC where new delegates have been nominated and elected to the respective bodies.

 

 

Legislative Branch of China - The National People’s Congress (全国⼈⼤)

The National People’s Congress is the highest legislative body in China’s state structure and wields the power to perform essential state duties. The NPC, which derives its powers from the Constitution of the PRC, was first convened in 1954. Chapter III of the Constitution describes the powers of state institutions and Section 3 of the Chapter states that the NPC is the organ through which the people of China exercise state powers at various levels. The powers of the NPC are further described in the chapter stating that administrative organs, supervisory organs, judicial organs, and procuratorial organs are all created, responsible, and supervised by the National People's Congress.

The NPC’s primary objectives and responsibilities include enacting legislation, amending the state Constitution, electing vital state official positions such as the President, Vice-President, deciding on the Premier and Vice-Premiers of the State Council upon the nomination from the President, appointing members to the Standing Committee of the NPC, managing the state budget, supervising the enforcement of legal enactments, reporting on the implementation of its policies, and deliberating on matters concerning the people of China among other functions.

The newly composed 14th NPC which convened on the 5th of March comprises of 2977 delegates elected from all provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities of China along with a few members from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. A significant section of the delegation elected to the NPC also comes from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police (PAP) signifying the outsized importance given to the armed forces in China’s legislative body.

 

 

The representatives of the NPC are indirectly elected by provincial people’s congresses and the allocation of seats to each province is decided based on their latest population figures. A strong majority of the delegates are members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) while the 8 other political parties that exist in the country also have representatives elected to the NPC, although remain very small in proportion. However, by providing the space for smaller parties to exist, the CPC at least theoretically differentiates itself from the state structure over which it has absolute control. This also allows the party to present its system as one that is representative of all sections of society, although within its own ideological ambit. More importantly, however, the NPC and its associated bodies fulfil a critical function in China’s political system- it majorly focuses on deliberating upon economic policies which is a critical function that can best be administered by the state itself to gain international relevance for its economic policies. Policies oriented towards foreign businesses are facilitated by a more active legislative body that sustains a state structure best suited for enabling a conducive business environment instead of party leadership that can at times be influenced by political overlays. Therefore, bodies associated with the NPC as well as the CPPCC are more focused on deliberation upon economic policies that enhance the growth of the economy. The importance of both these bodies is also signified in the position the Chairmen of both the NPC and CPPCC hold in the Politburo’s Standing Committee of the CPC- the highest decision-making body in the party’s hierarchy.

Power Centre of the People’s Congress - The Standing Committee (⼈⼤常委会)

The presiding body of the NPC known as the Standing Committee (NPCSC) is also a permanent organ that functions as the de facto legislature when the NPC is not in session. All of the 175 (part of the 13th NPCSC) Standing Committee delegates are elected through the NPC for a five-year term and regularly meet to deliberate and perform its functions.

The NPCSC consists of the Chairperson, secretary-general, and vice presidents among other members and cannot serve for more than two consecutive terms. Moreover, they cannot hold office in any of the State’s administrative, supervisory or judicial bodies as per the rules laid down for their duties.

The NPCSC also exercises the authority to appoint or remove top officials of central governmental bodies (apart from their heads), interpret national laws, and grant special amnesties, amongst other responsibilities. It also has the authority to interpret the Constitution, although has rarely done so. Moreover, it is also the supervising body of the State Council, the National Supervisory Commission, and the Supreme People’s Court among other important bodies. The Standing Committee also performs the duty of examining and approving adjustments to the national economic and social development plans as well as the State budget. It also has the power to proclaim a state of war when under attack if the NPC is not in session.

An important part of the Standing Committee’s duty is to approve the heads in charge of important positions such as the secretary-general of the State Council and governor of the People’s Bank of China upon the recommendation from the Premier of the State Council, approving the members of the Central Military Commission upon the nomination received by the Chairman of the Commission, appointments of the vice-president and other judges on the recommendation of the President of the Supreme People’s Court. The election of deputies to the National People’s Congress is also presided over by the Standing Committee.

The Chinese People’s Consultative Conference ( 中国⼈⺠政治协商会议)

The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) functions as an advisory body to the NPC while serving as a mechanism to accommodate the interest of other minority groups including the 8 other political parties that are not associated with the CPC in China’s one-party system. The CPPCC consists of representatives from the Communist Party along with 8 other political parties, ethnic groups, returned overseas Chinese, and individuals invited from specific sectors.

 

Source - NPC Observer

The CPPCC’s primary function is to conduct political consultation with minority groups in order to smoothly implement policies enacted by the NPC or its Standing Committee. The delegates elected to the body serve for a period of five years. The National Committee of the CPPCC that oversees all its functions also serves for a period of five years and consists of a chairman, vice- chairmen and a secretary-general. A total of 2172 members were elected to the CPPCC in the 14th session and the organ convened on 4th March 2023. A significant majority of the delegation represents

minorities from different spheres of life in China’s society and partly fulfil the purpose of giving political agency to diverse sections of Chinese society. The political advisers also submitted around 29,000 proposals in the past five years on various subjects and more than 100 consultations and meetings were organized on topics ranging from food security, education, ageing population, rural vitalization, epidemic prevention, and development of the economy. The 13th CPPCC advisory body meetings had also particularly focused on consolidating as well as boosting the integration of the digital economy, in tune with its focus on enhancing economic policies.


Source - Xinhua

Branch of China- The State Council ( 国务院)

The State Council of China which is also referred to as the Central People’s Government is the executive body of the state structure and is also the highest state administrative organ that supervises administrative activities and implements policies of the government.

As per the PRC’s state Constitution, the State Council is directly responsible as well as reports to the NPC and to its Standing Committee when the NPC is not in session. The State Council is composed of the Premier, four vice-premiers, state councillors, ministers of ministries, the secretary general, the auditor general and ministers of commissions including from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of National Defence and Ministry of Civil Affairs among others. The Premier convenes and presides over State Council executive and plenary meetings. This not only makes the Premier the most important figure in the Executive branch of the Chinese state structure but also makes the position the 2nd most important one in China’s decision-making apparatus, second only to the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China. The four Vice-Premiers also play a pivotal role in China’s state structure, each one of them going on to receive an important domain to administer primarily focusing on the economy. For instance, vice-premier Han Zheng was entrusted with the leadership of the Belt and Road Construction Leadership Group, the Council’s coordination body to promote the BRI, Hu Chunhua was responsible for poverty, water resources, foreign trade, agriculture, Commerce among other important domains.

 

A core function of the executive body includes formulating administrative regulations and issuing executive orders in line with the Constitution, submitting proposals for deliberation to the NPC or Standing Committee of the NPC as well as implementing plans for national economic and social development. It also has the authority to change or revoke the directives issued by the local state administrative organs as well as the ministries and commissions.

The Legislative as well as the Executive arm of the Chinese state structure plays a vital role in enacting as well as implementing rules and regulations for the administrative functioning of the PRC. However, the connotation of being a rubber stamp generally stands out due to the recommendations it is required to follow from the Party itself. The fact that a majority of the members elected in important positions of the state structure also hold key positions in the party legitimizes such claims. According to the 1978 Constitution of the PRC, the Central Committee of the CPC made recommendations for the appointment of personnel to key positions, but the provision was revoked and amended in the revised constitution of 1982. The custom of following party directions however has continued to persist. Thus, even after having concrete teeth to its decision-making process, the legislative and executive body of China’s state system performs its duties in line with the party-led approach to governance followed in the country’s political system.

Author

A postgraduate in Global Studies from Ambedkar University, Delhi, Ratish’s area of interest includes understanding the value of Narratives, Rhetoric and Ideology in State and Non-State interactions, deconstructing political narratives in Global Affairs as well as focusing on India’s Foreign Policy interests in the Global South and South Asia. He was previously associated with The Pranab Mukherjee Foundation and has worked on projects such as Indo-Sino relations, History of the Constituent Assembly of India and the Evolution of Democratic Institutions in India. His forthcoming projects at ORCA include a co-edited Special Issue on India’s Soft Power Diplomacy in South Asia, Tracing India’s Path as the Voice of the Global South and Deconstructing Beijing’s ‘Global’ Narratives.

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