China needs an authoritative and effective anti-corruption system with concentrated power. The new National Supervision Law has laid the foundation for the system.
A powerful weapon against corruption
The Communist Party has vowed to “put power in a cage.” The leadership has called for a stronger system that places power under the constraints of regulations and public scrutiny. In order to do that, we need a scientific and forceful mechanism, so officials will be kept away from corruption.
The existing anti-graft organs under the State Council have their blind spots. They only cover the civil service but leave out the legislature, the judiciary, state-owned enterprises, public institutions and social groups. A lack of independence from the government and limited investigative methods add to the constraints.
The latest reform is aimed at consolidating all the supervisory forces. The supervision law enables the new supervisory commissions to oversee the State Council, the prosecutors and the courts. No public institutions or employees can get away from its supervision.
According to the new law, the commissions will not only investigate and punish those who abuse their power, but also carry out anti-corruption education for public workers. In addition, it will cooperate with foreign governments and international groups to recover stolen assets and pursue fugitives.
The supervisory commissions will be run by the same people as the party’s discipline watchdog. This arrangement ensures that the party’s will is consistent with national laws. The party will exercise authority over all the public offices through the new system. It will help China to build a trustworthy team of cadres.
The practice of shuanggui [a form of extrajudicial detention often used to extract confessions in the Communist Party] has long been in a grey area. It is a practical way to combat corruption. Without shuanggui, some corruption cases would not have been cracked in time. Under the new law, shuanggui will be replaced with liuzhi [“retention in custody”]. The entire investigative process now has a legal foundation.
The law includes a series of measures to protect the rights of those placed in detention. For example, the supervisory bodies shall notify the family members within 24 hours after putting a person under investigation. The length of the detention shall not exceed three months. And those under investigation shall be provided with food and medical care.
The new law also ensures there are effective checks on the power of the commission itself.
The supervisory commissions will be held accountable by the parliament, the law and society, all of which can monitor the commissions in different ways. The party’s leadership will also make sure the supervisory work is in the correct political direction. This is a form of political oversight with Chinese characteristics.
By establishing the National Supervision Law, China is constructing a strong anti-corruption system from the top down. The reform will push China’s legal and political systems to evolve. It will also provide experience if China wants to make bolder structural reforms in the future.
Zhuang Deshui is Deputy Director at the Peking University Clean Government Center.