Wang Chen (center at podium) presides over the opening of the new “Research Center for Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law.”
Since the formal introduction of Xi Jinping’s banner term, “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for the New Era,” at the 19th National Congress of the CCP in October 2017, a number of shortened permutations of the phrase have emerged to consolidate Xi’s leadership and legacy in various policy areas. Examples include “Xi Jinping Thought on Strengthening the Military” (习近平强军思想), “Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization” (习近平生态文明思想) and “Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy” (习近平外交思想).
Over the weekend, one of the more widely used short banner phrases, “Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law” (习近平法治思想), was further elevated with the establishment in Beijing of a new research center with approval from the Central Committee of the CCP.
The Research Center for Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law (习近平法治思想研究中心) is located inside the China Law Society (中国法学会), the official organization representing academic legal professionals in China. In a speech at the launch, the director of the China Law Society, Wang Chen (王晨), a former journalist who was director of the State Council Information Office from 2008 to 2013, said the Xi phrase is “the latest achievement in the Sinicization of Marxist theory on the rule of law.”
As we noted previously at CMP, Xi’s long-term game plan leading up to the 20th National Congress in 2022 is to secure his legacy with the contraction of this unwieldy banner term as “Xi Jinping Thought” (习近平思想), and the rollout of these shortened, area-specific versions is an important part of this process.
State media have continually emphasized that “Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law” stresses the importance of law-based governance. But the ultimate foundation of this vision of governance is not the law but the Party. While people must respect the laws, the laws themselves must protect the Party and be subject to its interests and directives. Legal experts outside China have termed this “rule by law,” noting its fundamental departure from “rule of law” as understood in the UN system, as “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”
The creation of the new Research Center for Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law came just days after it was reported that millions of legal documents were removed from China Judgments Online, an important database of court judgements from across China that have provided experts with a valuable glimpse into Chinese judicial practice. Interviewed by the SCMP, Beijing-based lawyer Wang Fei expressed concern about the move. “Making the judgments available online was the best reform achievement of the Chinese judiciary in recent years,” he told the newspaper, “and this is very important for safeguarding justice.”
The People’s Dailyalso reported yesterday that the Central Committee had approved the establishment of a second group of departmental and regional centers for “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” The seven new centers will be located within the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, and the China Law Society, and in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Shandong provinces. This brings the total number of approved departmental and regional centers related to Xi’s banner term to 18.