We are witnessing an important modification of the Deng Xiaoping era, personalistic one-man rule enhanced by efficient Party controls of all aspects of life.
By Jerome Cohen
On Sunday, China’s National People’s Congress passed the comprehensive constitutional amendment proposed by the Communist Party under Xi Jinping’s leadership. The vote, which had the support of 2,957 delegates (with only two “no” votes and three abstentions), is what I anticipated. The leadership had to show a few dissenting voices among the almost 3,000 delegates in order to give the appearance of freedom on the part of the delegates. But it wanted, at the same time, to have a show of overwhelming support for the constitutional changes, unlike on some occasions where as many as 100 delegates have either voted against or abstained from voting with respect to certain reports on the legal system.
The leadership had to work hard in recent weeks first to press the Communist Party Central Committee to go along with its proposal and then the National People’s Congress delegates. Without the advance approval of the leadership it would have taken a brave, indeed foolhardy, person to express dissatisfaction in the current circumstances where the Xi Jinping machine had gone all out, using fear, intimidation and incentives, to achieve its goal.
We are witnessing an important modification of the Deng Xiaoping era, personalistic one-man rule enhanced by efficient Party controls of all aspects of life, increasing intolerance of dissent, more direct government controls of business and ever greater repression through the new supervisory commissions.
Ironically, this Constitutional amendment changed the wording in the Preamble from ”健全社会主义法制” to “健全社会主义法治.” I have always understood the newly-inserted last character in the phrase to symbolize the aspiration for China to achieve government under law (法治) rather than merely rule by law (法制). I think its insertion in the current circumstances is an attempt by the Xi Jinping crowd to hijack the term in accordance with his clear preference to rule the country by law rather than continue the reality of lawlessness in some crucial respects, as in shuanggui (双规), the party punishment that lacks any legal basis.
That is why we are getting the supervisory commissions fig-leaf of officiality and that is why, in order to feel comfortably free to plan on indefinite tenure as “president”, Xi insisted on amending the Constitution so everything can be done “according to law”.
Of course, there is no intent to place his actions under the law, and it is disappointing that the amendment does not come to grips with the Constitution’s Article 37 in an attempt to reconcile the National Supervisory Commission’s (NSC) “liuzhi” (留置) detention with Article 37’s restrictions on detention and arrest. (Perhaps that is being left to forthcoming relevant legislation—the NSC Law and a possible Organic Law of the NSC system to match the organic laws of the other institutions that purportedly fall under the National People’s Congress. Or it can be done later via a National People’s Congress Standing Committee interpretation or perhaps even a Supreme People’s Court’s interpretation if necessary.)
Everyone talks about Xi Jinping wanting to be another Mao Zedong. Some observers compare Xi’s ascent to the story of Putin. I have been saying for a long time that Xi’s goal is to out-do Stalin, without all the killing, and he may well succeed. He really is following the Stalin centralization of power, suppression of dissent, model that emphasized “the stability of law” even as Stalin used it as an instrument to promote the slaughter of millions.