Local Legislative Outreach Offices: A Vivid Example of Whole-Process People's Democracy in China
At the Central Conference on the Work of People's Congresses held in Beijing on October 13-14, 2021, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech in which he explained the main ideas of whole-process people's democracy and the defining features of contemporary Chinese democracy. His speech made original contributions to Marxist theory on democracy, greatly enriched and developed the theory of socialist democracy, and pointed out the direction and roadmaps for promoting local legislative outreach offices (LLOOs) of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC).
I. Initiation and development of LLOOs in developing whole-process people's democracy
The development of socialist democracy in the new era has led to new practices in democratic legislation, of which LLOOs are a prime example. President Xi stated in his speech that the system of people's congresses is an important institution for realizing whole-process people's democracy in China. Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2012, guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, the NPC Standing Committee has promoted the establishment and development of LLOOs under its Legislative Affairs Commission, setting a vivid example of developing whole-process people's democracy in the new era.
At its Fourth Plenary Session in October 2014, the 18th CPC Central Committee decided to introduce the LLOO system. In July 2015, the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee approved the first group of LLOO pilot institutions: the Hongqiao Sub-district Office in Shanghai, the Standing Committee of the Lintao County People's Congress in Gansu Province, the Standing Committee of the Jingdezhen Municipal People's Congress in Jiangxi Province, and the Standing Committee of the Xiangyang Municipal People's Congress in Hubei Province. Since then, LLOOs have emerged as a new democratic legislative format based on direct participation of local people in national legislation. In addition to publishing draft laws online to solicit opinions from the public, sending letters to departments and the public in local areas for their views, and conducting other forms of legislative research, symposiums, hearings, and argumentations, LLOOs have become a new effective organization for enabling orderly public participation in national legislation. A three-tier system of LLOOs is currently being set up, at the national and provincial levels as well as the level of cities divided into districts or autonomous prefectures, and it is going from strength to strength.
On November 2, 2019, President Xi visited an LLOO in the Hongqiao Sub-district in Shanghai, where he wholeheartedly affirmed LLOOs' effective explorations in communicating with the people and gathering their ideas. He stated, "We are taking the path of socialist political development with Chinese characteristics, and people's democracy is a type of whole-process democracy," and he emphasized, "The system of people's congresses is our country's fundamental political system. It must be upheld, consolidated, and developed. Channels for the public to express their opinions must be opened, and forms of democracy must be enriched." The visit to the Hongqiao Sub-district outreach office marked the first time President Xi used the term "whole-process democracy." He explained and affirmed the major role and significance of LLOOs in developing whole-process people's democracy.
The Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee established the second group of LLOOs in July 2020 and the third in July 2021. To date, it has launched 22 LLOOs in two-thirds of the country's provinces, which have prompted the establishment of 427 outreach offices at the provincial level and 4,350 at the prefecture level. These outreach offices have greatly expanded the breadth and depth of public participation in national legislation as well as enriched the practices and meaning of whole-process people's democracy. LLOOs have proved to be important platforms for the democratic expression of public opinion, demonstrating a unique role and strength in developing whole-process people's democracy and strengthening governance in the country.
II. Mechanisms and features of whole-process people's democracy through LLOOs
President Xi pointed out that an important way to evaluate whether a country's political system is democratic and effective is to observe whether "people can express their interests and needs without hindrance and whether all sectors of society can effectively participate in the country's political life." The work of LLOOs provides a realistic and effective method for people's orderly participation in national legislation. Throughout the legislative process of the national legislature, consisting of the proposal, drafting, research, deliberation, evaluation, publicity, and implementation of draft laws, LLOOs listen to the opinions and suggestions of local people and present authentic feedback from the public to the national legislature for its consideration, allowing it to incorporate useful suggestions into laws.
A meeting is held to solicit opinions on a draft of the revised Anti-monopoly Law at a local legislative outreach office in Hongqiao Sub-district, Shanghai, November 18, 2021. PROVIDED BY THE LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS COMMISSION OF THE STANDING COMMITTEE OF THE NATIONAL PEOPLE'S CONGRESS
As a result, LLOOs have been described as direct lines to national legislation for the public. This democratic legislation mechanism creates a channel for direct contact between the country's highest legislative office and people at the community level, which facilitates communication between the two sides during the entire national legislative process of democratic participation, expression, and decision-making. This demonstrates the authenticity and the people-centered and expansive nature of people's democracy, and reflects the solid foundation of public opinion on which whole-process people's democracy is built. It is a form of genuine democracy compared to those that Western countries pay lip service to, like street politics, referendums, and lobbying.
President Xi pointed out, "The key to whether a country is democratic lies in whether the people are truly the masters of the country; it depends on not only whether the people have the right to vote, but more importantly, whether they have the right to participate extensively." In China, the laws to be enacted, the systems to be established, the rights to be delegated, and the obligations to be assumed in the national legislation process all involve the participation of the people, so the establishment of the legal system is left to the people. This is prescribed by China's socialist democracy.
For example, when preparing the legislative work plan of the NPC Standing Committee for 2022, the opinions of LLOOs were solicited in the second half of 2021, including those at Hongqiao, Zhengding, Sanjiang, Hanzhong, Yiwu, Hefei, Xiangyang, and China University of Political Science and Law. The LLOOs made more than 50 legislative proposals on strengthening employment and social security as well as boosting the digital economy, which were highly valued and received a positive response.
In another example, when compiling the Civil Code, the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee published 10 editions of drafts on the NPC's website between 2015 and 2020 to solicit opinions from the public. Printed drafts were also distributed to NPC deputies, relevant central departments, local people's congresses, and LLOOs to gather their views. In total, more than 1.02 million pieces of opinion and recommendation were collected from 425,000 people, including 995 gathered at three symposiums held by LLOOs. All these opinions and suggestions were shown due respect and consideration, and some were incorporated in the final draft of the Civil Code.
President Xi chaired meetings of the Standing Committee of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau in June 2016, August 2018, and December 2019, to hear and eventually approve in principle the reports from the CPC Leadership Group of the NPC Standing Committee on compiling the Civil Code. The formulation of legislative work plans and compilation of the Civil Code demonstrate that the legislative process in China is a process that reflects and incorporates public opinion in the legal system, a process that determines the intent of laws, and a process that realizes the will of the state by unifying the views of the ruling party and the aspirations of the people. As such, this process, whereby the people determine the legal system, integrates democracy in process with democracy in outcome, procedural democracy with substantive democracy, direct democracy with indirect democracy, and people's democracy with the will of the state. It is a vivid example of the CPC standing on the people's side and ensuring the people are the masters of the country; of the CPC's support for, and leadership and protection of, people's participation in government affairs and their management of state and social affairs and economic and cultural undertakings; and of the unity of the CPC's leadership, the people's position as masters of the country, and law-based governance.
President Xi also stated, "Democracy is not an ornament or for decoration; rather, it is for addressing problems that the people need solved." LLOOs are a good illustration of Xi's statement, as they serve as direct lines in national legislation for addressing problems that the people need solved.
We have made overall plans regarding the distribution of LLOOs and also taken into account regional conditions.
LLOOs are located in a wide variety of regions. For example, Hongqiao is in the international metropolis and foreign-investment hub of Shanghai; Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, attracts Taiwanese businesspeople and Taiwan-funded enterprises; Yiwu, Zhejiang Province, is known as the world's largest small commodities market; Jianghai District in Jiangmen, Guangdong Province, is the hometown to the largest number of overseas Chinese in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area; Sanjiang, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is an autonomous county with many ethnic minorities; Bijie in Guizhou Province and Lintao in Gansu Province are both key rural revitalization counties; and Caixi Town, Fujian Province, is an old revolutionary base area. These offices are platforms for people to exercise their rights to be informed, to participate, to be heard, and to oversee. They ensure that during the legislative process, the needs of all parties are reflected, their interests are considered, and their concerns are heeded. In this way, common ground is built based on social conditions and public opinion and a cohesive strength is formed for national and social governance.
We have diversified the formats of LLOOs and are gradually expanding information sources.
The 22 LLOOs of the NPC Standing Committee include 12 formats, covering the work of local people's congresses at various levels, science parks and colleges and universities. Under the overall planning of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee, LLOOs form a multilevel, diverse network that gathers knowledge and information required for national legislation.
The LLOO in Sanjiang, Guangxi, established in July 2020, has capitalized on its locational advantages to share its national legislation platform with standing committees of people's congresses in five neighboring counties in three provinces and autonomous regions (Rongshui Miao Autonomous County and Longsheng County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Tongdao Dong Autonomous County in Hunan Province, and Liping County and Congjiang County in Guizhou Province). This has strengthened links between the national legislature and local ethnic minorities and promoted democracy and the rule of law in areas with a large ethnic population. People in these areas have pointed out that the development of this express lane to the national legislature is of immense benefit to people in old revolutionary base areas, ethnic minority areas, border regions, and remote areas, as it allows ethnic people in these areas to participate in the country's political life.
We are expanding the workforce and boosting LLOOs' role in gathering public opinions.
Each LLOO has a team of legislative liaison officers and a group of outreach units, forming a network for understanding social conditions and public opinion. This network adopts an integrated approach and has expanded to encompass towns, townships, sub-districts, schools, communities, public institutions, factories, mines, enterprises, social organizations, and the offices of people's congress deputies. The first two groups of LLOOs have recruited 3,659 legislative liaison officers and established 1,981 outreach units, communicating with hundreds of thousands of people and covering a population of over 10 million. The LLOO in Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, for example, has set up legislative information collection points based on a city-wide social governance grid system consisting of 1,654 grids, which, together with the hard work of those working in communities, have ensured that opinions are solicited from every part of the city. The LLOO in Lintao, Gansu Province, gathers information through 18 offices of people's congress deputies, 97 people's congress deputy websites, 20 legislative liaison offices, 100 information collection points, and 104 legislative liaison officers, facilitating public opinion gathering through every link. In early 2021, in view of the grave situation due to Covid-19, an LLOO at a people's congress deputy's office in Zhengding Town, Zhengding County, Hebei Province, turned to WeChat, a social media app, and other digital methods to gather opinions on eight draft laws, allowing it to complete its work while following Covid-19 response protocols. Li Hong, a 55-year-old people's congress deputy, is both a legislative liaison officer and Covid-19 prevention and control volunteer. During the day she works on the front line of Covid-19 prevention in her community, and at night she works overtime to sort through collected opinions. She has also personally submitted 11 suggestions on six draft laws.
We are encouraging innovative methods and improving public participation in legislation.
Fu Yonghui, a legislative liaison officer at the LLOO in Hongqiao, Shanghai, founded Ms. Fu's Story Club to explain the rule of law in the local dialect. She often tells attendees to "Feel free to speak when I ask for opinions. There's no benefit to saying nothing, but there is a benefit to saying something!" The LLOO in Xiangyang has approved 17 community-level organizations as outreach offices of the LLOO which serve as extended "antennas" for gathering public opinion. The LLOO in Kunshan has carried out various public opinion collection activities, including discussions in local teahouses and chats with locals. The LLOO in Jianghai District of Jiangmen, Guangdong Province, uses Qiaomengyuan, a business park platform, to gather the opinions of local compatriots from Hong Kong and Macao as well as overseas Chinese and their relatives. Legislative democracy is not only about soliciting opinions; it is also about the feedback on those opinions in the form of national legislation. All LLOOs keep records, and some have set up noticeboards to provide up-todate information on the inclusion of public opinions in national legislation, which serve as a visible reminder for the general public of the practical significance of people's democracy and illustrate to them that their opinions are heard and responded to.
We respect the principal position of the people and are enhancing their sense of fulfillment through democratic participation and decision-making.
By channelling the wisdom of the people for national legislative work, LLOOs leverage local people's ingenuity in and enhance their sense of contribution to national and social governance. By January 2022, LLOOs of the NPC Standing Committee had solicited local people's opinions on 132 draft laws and annual legislative plans, gathering more than 11,360 recommendations. All these have been considered respectfully and carefully by the national legislature, and more than 2,300 of them have been incorporated into laws wholly or partially.
When the LLOO in Hongqiao solicited opinions on the draft Veterans Support Law, Liu Xu, a veteran soldier, suggested that the government should be careful of cancelling any retirement benefits of veterans. The draft law stipulated that the matter would be handled by departments in charge of veterans' affairs of people's governments at the county level, but Liu Xu held that the county level was too low and he proposed changing it to the provincial level. He also suggested that a separate article should be added to the law on servicepersons who choose their own employment when leaving the military. These suggestions were incorporated in articles 71 and 84 of the adopted Veterans Support Law. In a letter to the LLOO, Liu Xu said, "I genuinely feel there is a sense of fulfillment to people's democracy in our country. That the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress respected and accepted our opinions is the greatest evidence of that sense of fulfillment."
Local legislative liaison officers have embraced the ethnic Dong tradition of discussing important affairs in the local drum tower, making it an important platform for public consultations on legislative issues. A local legislative outreach point was established by the standing committee of the people's congress in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, to convey the opinions of local residents directly to China's legislative bodies. THE STANDING COMMITTEE OF SANJIANG DONG AUTONOMOUS COUNTY PEOPLE'S CONGRESS / PHOTO BY QIN WEI
Democracy involves everyone in China, including minors. In 2020, when asked by the Hongqiao LLOO and also by their school to give their opinions on the draft revision to Minors Protection Law, students from the middle school affiliated to East China University of Political Science and Law suggested revising the provision "Where a public security organ discovers that a guardian of a minor has committed an act of domestic violence against the minor, he or she shall be reprimanded, ordered to pay a security deposit, and given family education and guidance. A perpetrator who refuses to accept family education and guidance shall have his or her security deposit confiscated" to simply educating such guardians, given the diverse economic circumstances of minors' families. Their suggestion was accepted and the provisions regarding payment and confiscation of the security deposit were removed from Article 118 of the revised law, which took effect on June 1, 2021. In response to the change, students commented, "Our opinions are not only valued by the school, but also by the state. We are very proud and encouraged. As well as learning about the rule of law, we have gained important life experience."
III. Promoting innovation and development of LLOOs in the course of developing whole-process people's democracy
In his speech at the Central Conference on the Work of People's Congresses, President Xi set out clear requirements regarding the development of whole-process people's democracy. He stressed the need to continue to advance whole-process people's democracy and see that the position of the people as masters of the country is concretely and practically reflected in the CPC's policies and measures for the governance of China, in all aspects of the work of the CPC and state organs at all levels, and in all efforts to fulfill the people's desire for a better life. The vigorous development of LLOOs is a vivid interpretation of the profound connotations of President Xi's concept of whole-process people's democracy. On our journey in the new era, we will continue to maximize the role of LLOOs to listen to the people's voices, pool their wisdom, and meet their expectations. We must reflect their ideas and wishes in our legal framework and use the institutional strengths of whole-process people's democracy to constantly enhance people's sense of fulfillment, happiness, and security.
We must uphold the CPC's overall leadership, follow the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, and implement the Party's policies and principles in all aspects of LLOO work.
We must evolve with the times and uphold and improve the Party's leadership systems and its leadership in various areas through legislation. We must ensure that legislative work follows the right political orientation, that policies and measures regarding the development of socialist democracy are fully implemented, and that the people are the masters of the country. We will strengthen the top-level design of the legal system, listen closely to the voices of the public, and build a broad social consensus, to ensure that the Party's guidelines, principles, and policies have a wide base of public support. We will establish more LLOOs with new formats and systematic distribution to ensure full coverage of China's 31 provinces, autonomous regions, and centrally administered municipalities. We will improve the quality and efficiency of the work of LLOOs and help them better exert their unique strengths and roles in national legislation and governance.
We must uphold and improve systems and institutions through which the people run the country and provide better institutional underpinnings for developing whole-process people's democracy.
In recent years, the Legislative Affairs Commission of the NPC Standing Committee has formulated and improved five institutional mechanisms concerning LLOOs, and these offices have issued more than 80 normative documents to improve their organization, expand their functions, and better play their legislative role, thereby providing a more pragmatic and effective institutional guarantee for orderly political participation of local people. The 13th NPC at its fourth session in March 2021 adopted the newly revised Organic Law of the National People's Congress, which stipulates that the NPC and its Standing Committee champion whole-process democracy and thus provides legal support to developing whole-process people's democracy at the national level. The draft amendments to the Organic Law of Local People's Congresses and Local People's Governments (the "Local Organic Law") submitted to the Fifth Session of the 13th NPC in March 2022 stipulates that local people's congresses at all levels, standing committees of local people's congresses at and above the county level, and local people's governments at all levels must uphold whole-process people's democracy and that deputies of local people's congresses at all levels must play a part in developing whole-process people's democracy. It is also the first time that the role of LLOOs has been written into the law, as strengthening ties between the people and standing committees of local people's congresses at and above the county level. These measures ensure bright prospects and great development potential for safeguarding and developing whole-process people's democracy.
We must respect the people's creativity, take an innovation-driven approach in LLOO work, and forge ahead more determinedly to help people realize their aspirations for a better life.
We should focus on the role of LLOOs in soliciting opinions and suggestions of local people regarding draft laws with a view to raising the quality and efficiency of legislation. We will align the work of LLOOs with platforms for the democratic expression of public opinion, such as the offices of peoples' congress deputies and their liaison offices, as well as with the development and innovative practices of CPC public service centers. We must respect the people's creativity, encourage LLOOs to actively explore approaches tailored to their local circumstances, and expand channels for orderly public participation in governance. We will invite representatives of LLOOs to participate in legislative discussions, surveys, and video conferences to hear authentic local voices, focus on the most pressing difficulties and problems of great concern to the people, and ensure that laws are effective in solving real problems. In the future, we must continue to review the innovative experiences of LLOOs and continuously expand their functions in such areas as legislation, law enforcement, the judiciary, legal awareness, and legal compliance. We must remain innovative in the development of LLOO work to raise the quality and efficiency of whole-process people's democracy.
(Originally appeared in Qiushi Journal, Chinese edition, No. 5, 2022)