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Guest #9: New Central Committee Regulations

On September 28, the Politburo deliberated and passed a new Central Committee Regulations 《中国共产党中央委员会工作条例》(Chinese | English). This regulation is important for a number of different reasons. First, it codifies and extends the agenda-setting powers of the General Secretary (Xi Jinping). Article 17 specified that the General Secretary is responsible for convening the meetings of the Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee. Article 25 and 26 specifies that the topics of the meetings are decided by the General Secretary.

Second, the new regulations highlight the critical importance of party rules and regulations for understanding institutional order and power. They often have higher status vis-a-vis laws of the PRC. We often overlook party rules and regulation, perhaps partly because how they are formulated and work is often opaque. In any case, Xi has prioritised party regulations as a mean of governing the Party and reshaping the way it rules.

Third, the process by which this new regulation has come about highlight the changes to the process of rule-making itself in recent years under Xi. In short, party regulations no longer needs to be passed by the National Party Congress, but rather can be passed by the Politburo. This centralisation of power at the top of the Party is noteworthy.

We are by no means experts on this stuff, so we’re pleased to bring you someone who is. Holly Snape’s article below helps us contextualise the new regulations, and illustrate the importance of party rules and regulation, and the process of party rule-making itself.

Have a good day.

- Yun and Adam

The New Central Committee Regulations in Context: Changing the Rules to Make the Rules?

Holly Snape, British Academy Fellow, University of Glasgow

“At all levels…government…the democratic parties and people without party affiliation, people’s organisations, enterprises and public institutions, primary-level mass self-governing organisations, and social organisations must all self-consciously accept Party Centre leadership.”

[Article 7, CCP Central Committee Work Regulations]  

On 12 October Xinhua released the full version of a set of regulations on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Central Committee, one of its two highest-ranking bodies. Though given the modest moniker of the ‘Central Committee Work Regulations’ (CCWR), they don’t stop at setting out the powers and responsibilities of the Committee itself or at codifying powers of its General Secretary (Xi Jinping). They also articulate sweeping obligations of state and society to the Committee. The Regulations were passed not by a National Party Congress (the other highest-ranking body, which at its last meeting had 2,280 delegates) but by a meeting of the Central Committee’s own inner Politburo (made up of one woman and 24 men).

Inside the Party and state, the drafting processes behind regulations and quasi-regulations are key fields of political manoeuvring. Participation in the process is the means by which a leader post-Mao can have their personal preferences consecrated by the Party. Though these processes are opaque, examining Party planning and strategising and tracing institutional adjustments can illuminate an important murky corner. Here, I attempt to do this with the CCWR, a document that brings the CCP a step closer to the aim of entrenching “a fairly perfected regime of Party regulations by the centenary of the CCP’s founding.”

Not a Law but Just as Important: Party ‘Legislating’

Under CCP rule, the task of formal legislating is delegated to the state — the National People’s Congress acts as the state legislature — though the legislation process (and the People’s Congress system itself) is heavily influenced by the CCP.

Less researched but just as important, Party regulation-making is in some ways analogous to legislating. The power to make Party regulations is concentrated among a few organisations, and the process is governed by codified procedures. The Party regulations are ranked in a hierarchy of regulatory efficacy (meaning they carry different levels of authority, the power to formulate differently-ranked regulations is crucial, and the relationship between them has to be somehow upheld), its rules are binding for Party members (and sometimes beyond), and there is a system of penalties for failure to comply. While officially the process is called ‘formulating,’ some scholars refer to the regulations that govern it as “the Party’s ‘legislation law’” (“党内‘立法法’”) — a notion appropriated by the Party for inclusion in the official booklet form of an earlier version of this “Party legislation law.”

Though they are officially called ‘intra-Party’ regulations, they are as important outside of the Party as they are in it.

In 2019 the Politburo altered part of the definition of Party regulations, from ‘the internal Party rules system (党内规章制度) that regulates Party organisations’ work and activities and Party members’ behaviour...’ to a ‘designed-for-purpose rules system (专门章制度) that manifests the unified will of the Party, regulates Party leadership and Party building activities, and relies on the Party’s discipline to guarantee implementation.’ This better reflects their expansive (and expanding) reach.

Systematic Overhaul: Using Regulations to Remould the Party

As General Secretary, from the beginning of his first term, Xi has been orchestrating a complete overhaul of the Party regulations system. This has changed the way they are defined, formulated, passed, filed, vetted, studied, implemented, and integrated with state legislation. The overhaul has been paired with a rewriting (or writing anew) of their content. The CCWR should be understood in this context.

Xi has now overseen the best part of two Five-Year Programmes for formulating Party legislation — the 2013–2017 Programme was the first of its kind. The second (2018–2022), listed the CCWR as a priority.

By 2020 the Party — or a small part thereof — had written or amended over 180 central Party regulations (in 2018 this was reportedly 80—forty percent of the then total). Among those changed are formative documents of the ‘reform and opening’ era, like the 1980 Some Codes for Conduct in Political Life in the Party which was essentially re-written and passed at a 2016 Central Committee plenum.

Around the country ‘Party regulation research institutes’ have mushroomed in the form of provincial level organisations (like those in Jilin and Shandong in 2017 and Beijing in 2018), within provincial Party schools (like that in Anhui in 2018), and in universities (sometimes in ‘collaboration’ with the provincial-level Party committee) such as at Wuhan University in 2016, and the China University of Political Science and Law, Xinjiang University, and Fujian Normal University in 2017.

Xi’s overhaul strategy, far from being an ‘internal’ Party matter, reaches deep to the roots of the way the CCP rules.

Remoulding the Party and its Relationship to the State

Take for example the relationship between the state legal system and the Party regulatory system. The overhaul is part of the Four Comprehensives Strategic Plan. The jargon may be abstruse, but it sets out the elements of the strategy succinctly:

  1. the ‘moderately prosperous society’ (which the CCP has been promising, in various iterations, for decades);
  2. deepening reform (which cognitively suggests continuing along the same trajectory but clearly that’s not the case);
  3. ruling the country by law; and
  4. ruling the Party strictly.

Given that the first is meant to be finished this year and the official line is that it’s basically complete, we can put it to one side. The second (deepening reform) officially aims at ‘modernizing the national governance system.’ This requires the marriage of numbers 3 and 4 (‘ruling the country by law’ and ‘ruling the Party strictly’).

The CCWR is just one — admittedly crucial — building block of this masterplan. In 2014, the 18th Central Committee Fourth Plenum Resolution, stated that a “perfected Party regulation system” was a necessary component of “socialist-with-Chinese-characteristics rule of law.” This was a first. In 2019, a line from the 2014 Resolution was codified word for word in the heavily amended principles on how Party regulations are formulated: “focus on linking and harmonising Party regulations with state laws.” Drab this may seem, but it is an important, substantive, steppingstone to changing the relationship between Party regulations and law, between Party and state.

Changing the Rules to Make the Rules?

Fast forward to the CCWR. How could such a critical piece of Party legislation be passed by a meeting of the 25–person Politburo (a meeting which Xi, as General Secretary, is responsible for calling)?

In 2019, a Politburo meeting passed amendments to the ‘Party legislation law,’ changing the way central Party regulations are ‘reviewed and approved.’ This was no tweak: the two key documents, compared to their previous versions, according to a PKULaw-generated comparison, retained only 0.6 and 0.2 similarity. My own manual comparison showed up even more changes.

Prior to these changes, the 2012 CCP Regulations on Party Regulation Formulation (RPRF)stipulated that Party regulations of this magnitude should have been vetted by a National Party Congress.

The 2012 RPRF stipulated:

Article 22, The review and approval of Party regulations shall be carried out according to the following powers:
  1. Intra-Party regulations that deal with the formation, make up, and powers of central organisations…shall be reviewed and approved by a National Party Congress

In 2019, this line was erased and replaced with:

Article 28, The review and approval of central Party regulation drafts shall be carried out in the following way:
  1. Regulation (条例) drafts shall ordinarily be reviewed and approved by a Central Committee Politburo meeting

The important thing here is not that ‘review and approval’ by 2,000+ people rather than 25 or less would have made the process substantively more democratic; it is that giving the Politburo meeting the power of approval likely gave the General Secretary greater influence over the timing and formulation process. While the common consensus in anglophone studies of Chinese politics is that the National Party Congress itself is toothless, the runup to a Congress is a crucial field of manoeuvring. The difference between approval by a Politburo meeting and that by a Congress meant that the CCWR could be passed outside of the runup to a Congress (and while Xi has strong support on the Politburo).

The alteration of the ‘Party legislation law’ changed the rules for manoeuvring and placed the power of approval square in the Politburo meeting (and its convenor — the General Secretary). The CCWR further entrenches this, altering the relationship within the Party as well as that between Party and state. For example, Article 25 stipulates that: “on meeting with important situations [Politburo meetings] can be held whenever necessary” and “meeting agendas are decided by the General Secretary.” Meetings can be held as long as half of the Politburo’s members are present, and other people can observe “if necessary.” In other words, the General Secretary (Xi) can call a meeting, decide what to discuss, have just over half the Politburo present, invite others, and pass a document like the CCWR that codifies basic Party rules (with which state laws are then to be merged and aligned). This potentially streamlines, or sidesteps part of, the manoeuvring that could have gone on under the old rules.

Beyond the Central Committee?

Though the CCWR is meant to regulate the Central Committee, a government website report already indicates it will be used much more broadly: “all regions and departments and the vast swathes of Party members and cadres must boost their political consciousness of [the need to] implement the spirit of the Regulations” applying this spirit to “all work of Party and state.”

The CCWR itself reaches far beyond the powers and obligations of the Central Committee — a striking move for a legislative-like document. It defines the Committee’s “leadership status” partly in terms of the obligations of others to it. The state and societal organisations listed “must all self-consciously accept Party Centre leadership.”

Looking ahead, as analysts parse the documents from the Central Committee Plenum at the end of this month — including the Party’s “recommendations” for the state’s 14th Five-year Plan (FYP) and the “15-year long-term goal” — we should probably be watching for a CCWR Study-the-Spirit Campaign coursing through the Party and state (the ‘Two Studies, One Be’ campaign followed soon after the 13th FYP recommendations in 2016). Those documents need to be read in this context to understand the demands weighing on ministry, bureau and department heads as they gear policy and implementation toward the 14th FYP goals.