The National People’s Congress on Sunday approved a sweeping government overhaul that cements the Communist Party’s control over key functions of the government.
“To turn today’s crushing momentum against corruption into a crushing victory, we must further strengthen the party’s leadership,” said party official Yang Xiaodu.
The changes include the formation of a “National Supervision Commission” that will be tasked with rooting out corruption and ideological lapses. The commission will share office space and personnel with the party’s existing anti-corruption body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI).
Over the past five years, the CCDI has punished more than 1.5 million party members. The new law will expand the CCDI’s powers by allowing it to investigate all officials (not just party members) for “improper conduct” – meaning it will look into ethical standards and political beliefs as well as compliance with Chinese law.
The creation of the new agency will more than double the number of people subject to the Communist Party’s supervision, said a senior party official.
“Entrenching the Communist Party’s political dominance has been a priority for Mr. Xi, who is steering a revamp of government agencies designed to strengthen the party control over all levers of public power,” reports The Wall Street Journal.
The National Supervision Commission is designed to improve the implementation of policy, streamline administration, and eliminate protectionist rules in cities and provinces. Critics fear it will give legal cover to the party’s murky policing methods, including “shuanggui” – a term that refers to the indefinite detention of corruption suspects without access to a lawyer.
Last year, pilot commissions detained 183 people – including an urban sanitation worker and a primary school teacher. Some of the detainees were held in party-run shuanggui facilities. In Shanxi, a transportation bureau chief was detained for seven weeks over corruption accusations before receiving a prison sentence of 12 years.
Human Rights Watch in 2016 documented cases of sleep deprivation, beatings, stress positions, and other forms of torture in shuanggui jails.
Last October during a speech to delegates, Xi announced that shuanggui would be replaced by detention.
The shuanggui system belongs to the Communist Party of China, while the police and courts belong to the state. Xi is the leader of both.
â€¨“What is really being abolished may be the pretense of separation of party and state,” writes China researcher Jeremy Daum.
Party officials insist the agency’s powers are subject to legal and procedural checks that will prevent abuses.
Since he took leadership of China’s Communist Party, Xi has consolidated power in ways we haven’t seen since the era of Mao Zedong.
Lawmakers on Sunday endorsed the creation of the new agency as part of changes to the constitution that included the abolishment of presidential term limits and the addition of the “Xi Jinping Thought” political philosophy to the constitution.