Chen Yixin on Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law

The Central Political and Legal Affairs Committee held a study session recently on Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law. Chen Yixin, Secretary-General, or rather the man with the emperor’s sword, i.e., the fellow who has been leading the political-legal rectification campaign, delivered a speech. The speech was made public on Friday. Here’s what he said.

In the first part of the speech, he focuses on the significance of Xi Thought on Rule of Law. He said that:

  • Xi Jinping’s thought on the rule of law “has opened up a new realm of Marxist theory of rule of law” and is a “leading” and “original” theoretical force. He said that Xi Thought is systematic, in track with the times, and keeps people in mind, i.e., their need for a better life and new requirements.

  • Xi’s Thought, he argues, furthers the development of socialist rule of law. “After a hundred years of exploration, our party has continuously deepened and improved its understanding of the construction of the socialist rule of law, and has embarked on a path of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics…(Xi) has formed a series of new ideas, new ideas and strategies in theory, and made a series of major decisions and deployments in practice. The construction of a socialist country under the rule of law has taken place. Historical changes and historic achievements have been made.” 

  • “Xi Jinping’s thought on the rule of law has endowed the Chinese rule of law civilization with new connotations...” In other words, Xi’s Thought on rule of law “promotes the creative transformation and innovative development of the Chinese rule of law civilization.”

  • “Xi Jinping’s thought on the rule of law has contributed new wisdom in maintaining the international rule of law...” The concepts he highlighted here were the idea of a shared community of common destiny, “fairness and justice in the international rule of law,” making “international rule of law order to be more open and inclusive,” and “a more secure and stable international rule of law.” All of this sounds great. But it’s important to look beyond the really great sounding language. For instance, more open and inclusive does not mean a more just system. It means greater value contestation, undermining earlier agreements on issues like human rights. When Chen says stable and secure, we must ask for whom and for what? 

In the next section, he talks about the four periods in the exploration and development of Xi Jinping's thought on rule of law. This is about building the cult of Xi and credibility among cadres. This is about impressing upon them that Xi’s Thought is not something that came from thin air, rather it has been built via practice, experience and ideological commitment to rule of law. Here are the four periods he talks about

First, Xi’s time in Liangjiahe in Shaanxi and Zhengding in Hebei. This Chen says was a time of Xi’s youth, when he was “thinking about the grand propositions of life, society, and the country.” At this time, “he thoroughly studied Das Kapital, Critique of the Gotha Program, The State and Revolution and other classic Marxist-Leninist works, and gained a clear grasp of Marxist philosophy of law.” Chen then gives the example of Xi’s time in Zhengding, Hebei, where he argued for: “the construction of the rural legal system must be guarded against illegal religious activities, feudal clan forces, and evil forces. Comrade Xi Jinping also paid attention to the combination of rule of law and rule of morality, promoted the formulation of township regulations, and selected ‘five good families’ and ‘model party members’, which quickly changed the civilized appearance of the county.”

Second, during his tenure in Fujian, Chen says that Xi cracked down on “prominent coastal and maritime security issues,” let the legal system operate with his interference as Party secretary, strengthened “law enforcement in key areas that concern the vital interests of the people, such as soil erosion and water pollution,” and leveraged rule of law to ensure better functioning of the market and market entities.

Third, in Shanghai, Chen says that Xi “began to conceive and practice the rule of law from a higher level...he took the lead in making top-level designs and strategic plans for the construction of the socialist rule of law at the provincial level, and made major decisions.” Here’s more:

  • “in terms of practicing the purpose, he proposed to ensure that the people’s political, economic and cultural rights and interests are effectively respected and protected...”

  • “in terms of legal systems, he proposed that legislation is the foundation of the rule of law...”

  • “in the pursuit of value, he proposed that law enforcement justice is the lifeline of political and legal institutions, and it is necessary to regulate and supervise the operation of law enforcement and justice, and timely discover and resolve serious social impacts...”

Finally, since the 18th Party Congress, i.e., when Xi became General Secretary, Chen says that Xi has put forward “the guiding ideology, basic principles, general goals, general tasks and basic tasks for the comprehensive promotion of the rule of law.” 

The third section of the speech then talks about the situation within which Xi Thought on rule of law has emerged. Essentially, this is about emphasising the uniqueness of present times, which require this updated view on rule of law. Chen says, it is important to keep the two overall situations in mine, i.e., “the strategic overall situation for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and the other is a major change unseen in the world in a century.” He adds that “in the context of this era, whether it is to accomplish the tasks of domestic reform, development and stability, or to respond to international conflicts and risks, the rule of law with systems and rules at its core is the most basic method and the most important weapon.”

The first key variable of the times for him is the rise of China. He says that when one examines China from a global perspective, its governance “is a source of pride,” the practice of the socialist system makes its “superiority” evident and this is a “source of confidence” and the trust of the people provides a strong backbone. Then this:

“Foreign hostile forces are a big threat to our containment and suppression. They stubbornly adhere to hegemonic thinking and ‘Cold War’ thinking, carry out all-round strategic containment of our country, and abuse ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ to impose sanctions on our entities and individuals. This reminds us that competition among major powers today is mainly a competition of systems and rules. It is necessary to use Xi Jinping's thoughts on the rule of law to better use legal tools to protect the country's dignity and core interests in accordance with the law.”

He then talks about the pandemic being a big test and argues that it is clear who followed the rules and who disrupted events. “The great success of China's epidemic prevention and control has shattered the myth that the Western experience is the only correct one, and prompted more countries to look at the Chinese way and the Chinese model objectively and correctly.”

The fourth section talks about legal culture going forward. Here he emphasises:

  • Pursuing a “combination of adhering to the rule of law and ruling the country by virtue, so as to realize that the rule of law and virtue complement each other and make each other better.”

  • The centrality of people.

  • The need to deal with risks at the grassroots level, following the “Maple Bridge Experience.”

  • A blending of leniency and strictness in criminal law and punishment.

  • The building of a “criminal procedure system centered on trial” and focus on rectification of “major unjust, false and wrong cases in accordance with the law.”

The fifth section talks about the political direction of Xi’s thought. This emphasises:

  • “The leadership of the party is the most essential feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics and the most fundamental guarantee of the socialist rule of law. Upholding the party's leadership must be embodied in the party's leadership in legislation…”

  • The need to persist in keeping people at the center of the system.

  • “From China's national conditions and reality, we will take the road of rule of law that suits us, never copy the models and practices of other countries, and never take the path of the so-called ‘constitutional government’, ‘separation of powers’ and ‘judicial independence’ of the West.”

There’s more that he talks about further, but I’m next going to focus on the strategic tasks that he outlines. These are:

  • First, China must adhere to its own constitutional governance, which is different from the West’s. “Adhering to the constitutional rule of the country and governing by the constitution includes the unshakable leadership of the Communist Party of China as determined by the constitution, and the unshakable state system of the people's democratic dictatorship and the system of people's congress as determined by the constitution.”

  • Second, the Party needs to modernise the system of governance via rule of law.

  • Third, the focus must be on “comprehensive promotion of scientific legislation, strict law enforcement, fair justice” and ensuring that the Party and people are law-abiding.

  • Finally, “as China moves closer to the center of the world stage, we must accelerate the strategic layout of foreign-related rule of law work, coordinate domestic and international governance, and better safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

Finally, here’s a quote about the fundamental approach to governance by rule of law; this provides a philosophical grounding to what then follows.

Marxism believes that politics determines the rule of law, and the rule of law serves politics. The practice of the rule of law at home and abroad shows that there is politics in the rule of law, there is no rule of law divorced from politics, and there is no rule of law that transcends politics. In our country, law is the unified embodiment of the party's proposition and the people's will. The Party leads the people in formulating the Constitution and laws, the Party leads the people in implementing the Constitution and laws, the Party itself must operate within the scope of the Constitution and laws, and the Party's leadership and the rule of law are highly unified.”

Another quote worth keeping in mind given the focus on Core Socialist Values is this: “Law is written morality, morality is inner law. Both law and morality have the function of regulating social behavior, regulating social relations, and maintaining social order, and both have important positions and functions in national governance. On the one hand, it is necessary to strengthen the supporting role of morality in the rule of law. Legislation, law enforcement, and judiciary must reflect the requirements of socialist morality, and must penetrate the core socialist values ​​to make the socialist rule of law a good rule of law.”