Professor Liu Zuoxiang, Director of the Institute of Rule of Law and Human Rights at Shanghai Normal University, College of Philosophy, Law and Political Science, held a lecture titled “The Relationship between Party Regulations and National Law” at the China Law Center on May 30, 2017. After Prof. Liu’s lecture, Zhang Kangle, doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki, Faculty of Law and research fellow at Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, commented on Prof. Liu’s research.
Currently, there is an ongoing academic debate in China on whether or party regulations applied to the members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) may be considered national laws. Some scholars have argued that party regulations are in effect national laws. In his presentation, Prof. Liu demonstrated how party regulations and national laws are distinct from one another.
In a country run by the rule of law, the political party is not a legislative body – national laws must be based on the Constitution. The regulations or “norms” assumed by the party for its members cannot therefore be regarded as binding laws on the whole population. The role of the party is to ensure that its ideals, beliefs and aims are realized, enabled through self-discipline and strict administration of its members. Party rules are therefore applied only to party members in order to restrict their behaviour and ensure the members’ commitment to party ideals. The national law, on the other hand, is the basis of conduct for all citizens and embodies the will of the country, and therefore cannot be as strict and ideals-based as the rules for party members.
Yet, party rules can also be made into laws through a legislative process. Indeed, much of the regulations of the CCP have actually become national law, which may be the source of confusion between the two. Since the reform and opening up policy in the late 1970s, the CCP has been the main organ to pass laws. However, all laws passed by the party must first go through the National People’s Congress. Such power dynamics demonstrates that while being the organ to exercise state power, the party is still constrained by the Constitution, the will of the people and the rule of law.
Even though there are clear distinctions between party regulations and national law, there is still much confusion around the topic. One solution, proposed by a government official, is to apply a model of two governance systems, one for the party and another for the country. The two-system solution would clarify the application of party regulations and national laws and improve the party’s capacity to govern the country. Yet, challenges considering such an approach have arisen – for instance, whether party regulations should be applied over national law or vice versa, or whether or not the violation of party regulations, if not considered as legal code, should be punishable by law.
The distinction of party regulations and national law is a very timely topic, and Prof. Liu’s attempt to shed light on the ongoing debate in China was fascinating indeed. The development of the relationship between party regulations and national law will be interesting to follow, and is an issue that China watchers, researchers and those interested in the rule of law development in China should keep an eye on.
Author: Cristina D. Juola