China: Further erosion of rights expected under new anti-corruption laws
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China: Further erosion of rights expected under new anti-corruption laws

CHINA’S party members gathered Monday in Beijing for their annual opening session of parliament. While most eyes are trained on the inevitable removal of the two-term presidency, there is another looming approval that will also have a deep-seated and lasting effect on China’s cultural and political landscape.

A powerful new anti-corruption agency is set to be rubber-stamped at the National People’s Congress over the coming days. The national supervisory commission promises to streamline administration, improve the implementation of policy and eliminate protectionist rules in the cities and provinces as part of Xi’s ambitious anti-corruption drive.

But the draft law governing the commission is already proving controversial and has many questioning its sweeping powers and constitutionality.

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Xi has shown himself to be ferocious in his clampdown, using the anti-corruption purge to discipline or prosecute more than 1.5 million cadres for graft or disloyalty, including officials from the highest ranks of the party and military.

The new body will have greater powers than the existing Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the party’s anti-corruption body, and will have an unusual joint party-civil bureaucracy. Led by the Communist party, and sharing personnel with the CCDI, the commission will also work with lower level agencies within the state judicial system.


Former secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the head of China’s anti-corruption watchdog, Wang Qishan (C) leaves after the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on March 5, 2018. Source: Reuters/Jason Lee

Extending the powers of the already feared CCDI, the new law allows for the investigation of all officials, not just party members. This will expand its scope from the 88 million party members, up to more than 200 million people working in the public sector. Its mandate will include “improper conduct by state employees,” meaning that it will probe officials’ ethical standards and political beliefs, not just their compliance with the law.

The wider scope, going beyond just corruption, has concerned many who fear the president’s focus may have extended to party discipline, ideological beliefs and dissent among officials. With the blurring of lines between party and state, detainees under the new law will no longer have the constitutional protection enjoyed by those accused of ordinary crimes.

Jeremy Daum of the Paul Tsai China Centre at Yale Law School, told The Economist that detainees will have no guaranteed access to a lawyer. They can also be held for six months without charge and, while family members are supposed to be informed of an arrest, that can be waived if it threatens the progress of the investigation.

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There is no due consideration of protecting human rights and nothing that might keep the commission from making false accusations based on politically motivated tips.

As Chen Guangzhong of China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing suggested to The Economist, the ability and resources to supervise the supervisors must be strengthened before this is enshrined in the constitution. He proposes a two-year nationwide trial to ensure due process.

Xi has said repeatedly that the ongoing war on graft and disloyalty would be “carried through to the end.” As “Xi Jinping thought” enters the constitution and the path is cleared for him to stay in power indefinitely, this new national watchdog under the Communist party only looks set to tighten Xi’s increasingly vice-like grip on power.