Highlights of the communique
-- The general target is to form a system serving "the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics" and build a country under "the socialist rule of law".
-- China will ensure the leadership of CPC in "the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics".
-- The major tasks are to improve a socialist system of laws with Chinese characteristics, in which the Constitution is taken as the core, to strengthen the implementation of the Constitution, to promote administration by law, to speed up building a law-abiding government, to safeguard judicial justice, to improve judicial credibility, to promote the public awareness of rule of law, to enhance the building of a law-based society, to improve team building and to sharpen the CPC's leadership in pushing forward rule of law.
-- To realize the rule of law, the country should be ruled in line with the Constitution.
-- The system to ensure the implementation of the Constitution and to supervise the implementation should be improved.
-- The National People's Congress and its Standing Committee should play a better role in supervising the Constitution's implementation.
-- China will work to build a law-abiding government.
-- A mechanism to examine the legitimacy of major decision-making in governments should be set up, with a lifelong liability accounting system for major decisions and a retrospective mechanism to hold people accountable for wrong decisions.
-- China will promote transparency of government affairs.
-- A mechanism will be set up to record officials who interfere in judicial cases and name them publicly to hold them accountable.
-- The Supreme People's Court will set up circuit courts, and the country will explore establishing cross-administrative region courts and procuratorates, and seek to allow prosecutors to file public interest litigation cases.
-- The country will enhance the protection of human rights in judicial procedures.
-- China will try to recruit lawmakers, judges and prosecutors from qualified lawyers and law experts.
-- The CPC will improve its internal rules and mechanisms.
-- The effectiveness of implementing rule of law will be a significant index in judging the work of officials at various levels and will be added to their performance appraisal system.
-- The People's Liberation Army will promote the rule of law and enforce strict discipline.
-- China will guarantee the practice of "one country, two systems" and promote national reunification in line with laws.
History was made at the Fourth Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, because for the first time a Party plenary session discussed the rule of law, to be precise, how to strengthen the rule of law and constitutional governance, and boost the ongoing anti-corruption campaign.
The four-day plenum that ended on Thursday was important for another reason: Party General Secretary Xi Jinping reiterated that he is committed to deepening reforms to boost economic transparency, public trust and investor confidence.
Recognizing the historic significance of the plenum, Jiang Ping, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, said in an article, "No exceptions to the rule of law," in China Daily on Oct 20: "As a key step toward the rule of law, all forms of judicial reform should first emphasize the supremacy of the Constitution. This is the only way to remove the obstacles in the path of judicial reform. Judicial power belongs to courts, and courts should adhere to the Constitution and laws while passing verdicts … There is a close link among China's efforts to promote political institutional reform, rule of law and judicial reform, because the rule of law is an important aspect of political institutional reform while judicial reform plays a crucial role in promoting the rule of law."
Now, the plenum's resolution will ensure that judicial reform does not meet with any more setbacks, for the reform is likely to focus on promoting constitutional governance, boosting the independent powers of the judiciary and the law-enforcement forces. Local courts are expected to get more powers, so that they can resist pressure from local Party committees and governments. And judges will now be treated less like any other civil servants and more like independent officials delivering just verdicts.
According to the plenum, judicial reform will promote judicial transparency, because a transparent judiciary is a precondition for judicial fairness. Pilot projects with these goals at their core have already been launched in some cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, Guangdong province, to make judges more professional and independent.
American and European observers, however, may hesitate before either celebrating the plenum for its historic significance for reforms, because the plenum has emphasized the leading role of the Party in the country's "socialist rule of law". They may urge the Chinese leadership to further expedite reform efforts according to the West's "action now" agenda.
The deepening reform, however, is aimed at establishing a fair and just society. The scale of the program will be enormous given its admirable aim, and it will benefit from established institutions and past reform efforts. Also, increasing the independence and status of the judiciary will be crucial for the success of the program — this element has deep roots and precedents in thousands of years of Chinese history.
The success of the program will depend on the extent to which the law-enforcement and judicial departments change to meet the needs of the people. Here it is important to recall that the disastrous failure of former Russian president Boris Yeltsin's crash privatization and "instant free market" reform in the 1990s was the direct result of the impatience and messianic mania of Western, especially US, experts that the Kremlin naively turned to after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. In contrast, China has made it clear that in implementing its legal and judicial reform, it will stick to its own path and never blindly follow the Western model of division of power.
This is bound to invite criticisms from many Western media outlets and even official circles. Such criticisms should be ignored by China. The bane of constructive social reformers around the world in the last quarter century has been the inability of so many Americans and Europeans to recognize that different societies and cultures must be allowed to evolve differently and adapt to the changes at their own pace, a pace that suits their different economic conditions, political systems and historical experiences.
China should be guided in its judicial reform, as it has so successfully been in its economic miracle, by its own experiences and pragmatic results. And it should keep at arm's length the abstract ideological and sweeping theoretical solutions imposed by unworldly Western theorists.
The author is a senior fellow at the American University in Moscow, a columnist for the Post-Examiner online newspapers in the US, and has the book, Shifting Superpowers: The New and Emerging Relationship between the United States, China and India, to his credit.