10/24/2014, 00.00
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For Plenum, the rule of law "guaranteed" by the Chinese Communist Party

by Wang Zhicheng
The "rule of law" must have "Chinese characteristics". The leadership's power remains unchallenged. Six members are expelled, four from Zhou Yongkang's clique. A system of more independent judges is planned.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The Chinese Communist Party is the "heart" and guarantor of the rule of law in the country. The Party's leadership is the "fundamental guarantee" for greater respect of the law and the constitution, this according to the Fourth Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, held on 20-23 October in Beijing's Jinxi Hotel, which focused on the country's constitution and the legal system.

A communiqué following the meeting said that the Chinese Communist Party would implement a "the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics". This calls for the National People's Congress (China's parliament) and its Standing Committee, meanwhile, to play a better role in supervising the implementation of the constitution, and limiting the power of local officials in court cases. Any official caught interfering should be publicly criticised.

This is the first time in the Party's history that judicial independence from local Party officials was discussed. Across China recent history has been full of stories about petitions, families standing up for their rights, and widespread social incidents thwarted by judges subordinate to local political officials.

Nevertheless, many analysts are wondering if this will really lead to respect for the law and the rights of citizens. The heart of the matter lies in whether the Party is subject or above the Constitution and the law.

The Plenum's statement suggests that the actions by lower and intermediate level officials would be scrutinised but there is indication that the top leadership would also be required to submit to the rule of law.

The Plenum's communiqué cited the Party's leadership as "the most fundamental guarantee" for the implementation of the country's laws and the constitution.

Since he began his rise to power in late 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has stressed that "no organisation or individual has any special right to overstep the Constitution and the law, and any violation of the Constitution and the law must be investigated."

Within the Party, doves had hoped that these words would lead to a separation of powers at the top, with the Party accepting to be subordinate to the law. Instead, official newspapers slammed these positions as mere "constitutionalism" and an attempt to undermine the Party's leadership role by introducing "Western-style democracy", a prospect that must be excluded.

Still, the Plenum's statement does not settle the issue. In its place, it emphasises the "Chinese" nature of the Rule of Law by giving the Party a monopoly to power.

By stressing the rule of law with the leadership as its guarantor reinforces the stranglehold of current top office holders whilst calling to account individual members. This way, the Party hopes to avoid a crisis that is stifling it under the weight of corruption and inequities.

As if to set an example, five senior members - Li Dongsheng, Jiang Jiemin, Wang Yongchun, Li Chuncheng, and Wan Qingliang - were expelled from the Party along with General Yang Jinshan. They are all accused of corruption and will be prosecuted.

The first four are parties to the investigation into the activities of Zhou Yongkang, China's former security chief, whose fate the Plenum has not decided yet, perhaps because of internal divisions.

Li, Jiang and Yang were members of the Central Committee. They were replaced by National Bureau of Statistics Chief Ma Jiantang, State Administration of Religious Affairs Head Zuo'an Wang, and Mao Wanchun, a member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party in Shaanxi province.

However, according to one of China's elder statesmen, Bao Tong, the only way to stop widespread corruption among officials is for the Party to relinquish its absolute power.

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