What is the Central Party CCGAL?
It is a newly established decision-making body at the highest rank that is mandated to decide on issues concerning legislative initiatives, judicial policies and policy issues on law and enforcement, compliance of law and dissemination of law to the general public. The predecessor of the Central Party CCGAL first emerged in 2017 as one of the Central Leading-Groups headed by the General Party-Secretary (GPS) Xi Jinping, which was upgraded quickly to the status of a commission in 2018 as a component of the most expansive and far-reaching Action Plan on the Restructure of Party-State Institutions 深化党和国家机构改革方案 (hereinafter 2018 Restructure Plan).
The CCGAL is established to help the Party exert focused and unified leadership over its “rule-of-law” program. In mid-2018, it announced 98 tasks, covering all policy areas indicated above. The CCGAL has held two meetings by far. At its first meeting, it approved draft amendments of the Organic Law of People’s Courts and of the Organic Law of People’s Procuratorates, among other things. At its second meeting held in early 2019, it approved policy papers, such as, legislative plans of the Party, of the National People’s Congress, of the State Council for the year of 2019. It also approved the draft proposal of the Decision-making Procedure in Governmental Institutions concerning Important Issues.
What is the significance of the “upgrade” from a leading-group to a commission?
The change is not a simple matter of rhetoric but has institutional implications. According to my limited research, a leading group is established ad hoc and subject to few procedural rules; whilst a commission has stronger institutional foundations and its establishment is subject to certain procedures. For instance, the establishment of the Central Leading Group of Rule of Law was simply declared in Xi Jinping’s Work Report to the 19th Party Congress but the CCGAL was established based on a policy paper that was submitted to and approved by the 19th Central Committee at its 3rd Plenum. To put it more crudely, my educated speculation of the difference between the two is that if Xi Jinping wants to have a leading small group on certain issues, he can just tell people and have it; but if he wants to establish and head a commission, he has to go through the Central Committee. This circles back to where we started: what is the significance of a commission?
Again, based on my limited research and understanding of the operation of the Party, a commission, compared with ad hoc decision-making bodies such as leading groups, has legs on the ground, so to speak. In other words, it has its own agents to oversee the implementation of, or directly carry out, for instance, the Central Commission of Discipline and Inspection (CCDI), its decisions. Although the Central Party CCGAL’s current reach is nowhere near to that of the CCDI, it certainly has much greater institutional strength than that of the its predecessor (the leading group).
Currently, the agents of the Central Party CCGAL are provided by the restructured Ministry of Justice (MOJ). After having merged the Legal Office of the State Council as dictated by the 2018 Restructure Plan, the new MOJ now devotes a substantial amount of resources to implement the CCGAL decisions.
What is happening to the National People’s Congress?
Judging from its recent decision-making activities, the Central Party CCGAL has taken on a lot legislative decision-making, superseding the NPC. However, it is not that the NPC had ever exercised any autonomy from the Party in the past. The Party has always exercised control over state legislative issues through the party-group installed in the NPC. The change, I speculate, is that before the establishment of the Central Party CCGAL important legislative issues were decided either by the designated member of Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) with the legislative portfolio (Li Zhanshu since the 19th Party Congress) or by the Politburo or the PSC collectively; whilst now such discussions involve only a cluster of PSC members. The current director and deputy directors of the Central Party CCGAL are Xi Jinping, Li Zhanshu and Wang Huning, who together constitute less than the majority of the PSC.
The decline of the Political-Legal Committee
The establishment of the Central Party CCGAL further diminishes the power of the Central Political-Legal Committee (CPLC), the influence of which has been declining since the fall of Zhou Yongkang. To start with, the CPLC has never been given any authority over legislative matters, which contrasts the expansive mandate of the Central Party CCGAL (the word “comprehensive” appears in its title for a reason). The most decisive decision to weaken the power of the CPLC is of course the confiscation of the PSC seat of the CPLC leader at the 18th Party Congress. Then the CPLC’s other arm, the Commission on Comprehensive Management of Social Order, which had the mandate to oversee social stability maintenance, was dissolved also by the 2018 Restructure Plan. The next blow came with the enactment of the CCP Directive on Political-Legal Work (2018), where the Central Party asserted its absolute authority on major policy issues as well as on cases of significance, superseding that of the CPLC.
Lastly, the Central Party CCGAL is constituted with its office set up at the Ministry of Justice instead of the CPLC. The latter choice would have seemed more natural given the fact that the functions of these two bodies overlap to a considerable extent and the fact that it is customary to keep Party reorganization within the Party. The fact that the Party decides to set up the Central Party CCGAL office at the Ministry of Justice manifests the expansion of institutional fusion of the Party-State on the one hand and on the other hand it might also suggest a desire to install a measure of balance of power between the CPLC and the MOJ or simply that there is still a magnitude of built-in distrust of Xi Jinping towards the CPLC, whose key personnel were handpicked by Zhou Yongkang and may still harbor some concealed loyalty towards the latter.
Regional and local CCGALs
After its initial establishment at the central level, CCGALs have been quickly set up in all regions, prefectures and counties under the command of the corresponding Party committees. Their mandates are similar to that of the Central Party CCGAL, in terms of policy areas, but the reach of their power is expectedly limited to their respective territorial boundaries. The limit is pertinently reflected in their names: whilst the CCGAL is called the Commission on the Comprehensive Governance of Country according to the Law at the central level 中央全面依法治国委员会, it is called the Commission on the Comprehensive Governance of the Province in provinces and autonomous regions 全面依法治省委员会, the Commission on the Comprehensive Governance of the Prefecture 全面依法治市委员会 in prefectures and the Commission on the Comprehensive Governance of the County 全面依法治县/区委员会 in counties.
Note: When citing this piece, please indicate the source as Li, Ling (2020) “A Quick guide to the new Commission on Comprehensive Governance according to Law (CCGAL).” The China Collection. Jan. 16.