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politics and government of
This article is concerned with the formal administrative structure of the state, its branches, departments and their responsibilities. Most, but not all, positions of significant power in the state structure and in the military are occupied by members of the Communist Party of China which is controlled by the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China, a group of 4 to 9 people, usually all older men, who make all decisions of national significance. As the role of the military is to enforce these decisions, the support of the PLA is important in maintaining Party rule.
Power is concentrated in the Paramount Leader, currently Xi Jinping, who heads the three most important political and state offices: He is General Secretary of the Communist Party and of the Central Committee and Chairman of the Central Military Commission and also the President of the People's Republic of China. Recently, experts have observed growing limitations to the Paramount Leader's de facto control over the government.
The legal power of the Communist Party is guaranteed by the PRC constitution and its position as the supreme political authority in the PRC is realised through its comprehensive control of the state, military, and media. According to a prominent government spokesman:
We will never simply copy the system of Western countries or introduce a system of multiple parties holding office in rotation; although China’s state organs have different responsibilities, they all adhere to the line, principles and policies of the party.
The primary organs of state power are the National People's Congress (NPC), the President, and the State Council. Members of the State Council include the Premier, a variable number of Vice Premiers (now four), five State Councilors (protocol equal of vice premiers but with narrower portfolios), and 29 ministers and heads of State Council commissions. During the 1980s there was an attempt made to separate party and state functions, with the party deciding general policy and the state carrying it out. The attempt was abandoned in the 1990s with the result that the political leadership within the state are also the leaders of the party. This dual structure thereby creates a single centralized focus of power.
At the same time there has been a move to separate party and state offices at levels other than the central government. It is not unheard of for a sub-national executive to also be party secretary. This frequently causes conflict between the chief executive and the party secretary, and this conflict is widely seen as intentional to prevent either from becoming too powerful. Some special cases are the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau where the Mainland Chinese national laws do not apply at all and the autonomous regions where, following Soviet practice, the chief executive is typically a member of the local ethnic group while the party general secretary is non-local and usually Han Chinese.
Under the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, the NPC is the highest organ of state power in China. It meets annually for about two weeks to review and approve major new policy directions, laws, the budget, and major personnel changes. Most national legislation in the PRC is adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. Most initiatives are presented to the NPCSC for consideration by the State Council after previous endorsement by the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee. Although the NPC generally approves State Council policy and personnel recommendations, the NPC and its standing committee has increasingly asserted its role as the national legislature and has been able to force revisions in some laws. For example, the State Council and the Party have been unable to secure passage of a fuel tax to finance the construction of expressways.
The Constitution was first created on September 20, 1954. Before that an interim Constitution-like document created by the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference was in force against the backdrop of the Cultural Revolution. The 2nd promulgation in 1975 shortened the Constitution to just about 30 articles, and contained Communist slogans and revolutionary language throughout. The role of courts was slashed, and the Presidency was gone. The 3rd promulgation in 1978 expanded the number of articles, but was still under the influence of the just-gone-by Cultural Revolution.
The current Constitution is the PRC's 4th promulgation. On December 4, 1982, it was promulgated and has served as a stable Constitution for 30 years. The role of the Presidency and the courts were normalized, and under the Constitution, all citizens were equal. Amendments were made in 1988, 1993, 1999, and most recently, in 2004, which recognized private property, safeguarded human rights, and further promoted the non-public sector of the economy.
The National People's Congress is the highest state body and the only legislative house in the People's Republic of China. Although the membership of the NPC is still largely determined by the Communist Party of China, since the early 1990s it has moved away from its previous role as a symbolic but powerless rubber-stamp legislature, and has become a forum for mediating policy differences between different parts of the Party and the government. For the NPC to formally defeat a proposal put before them is rare, but the NPC has become the forum in which legislation is debated before being put to a vote.
The President (formerly, Chairman) and Vice President are elected by the National People's Congress for five-year terms. The President is a ceremonial office and serves as the nominal head of state. The office was created by the 1982 Constitution. Formally, the President is elected by the National People's Congress in accordance with Article 62 of the Constitution. In practice, this election falls into the category of 'single-candidate' elections. The candidate is recommended by the Presidium of the National People's Congress. Currently the President of China is Xi Jinping and the Vice President is Li Yuanchao.
The State Council is the chief authority of the People's Republic of China. It is appointed by the National People's Congress and is chaired by the Premier and includes the heads of each governmental department and agency. There are about 50 members in the Council. In the politics of the People's Republic of China, the Central People's Government forms one of three interlocking branches of power, the others being the Communist Party of China and the People's Liberation Army. The State Council directly oversees the various subordinate People's Governments in the provinces, and in practice maintains an interlocking membership with the top levels of the Communist Party of China.
The Central Military Commission exercises the command and control of the People's Liberation Army and is supervised by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. The state CMC is nominally considered the supreme military policy-making body and its chairman, elected by the National People's Congress, is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. In reality, command and control of the PLA, however, still resides with the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. Currently the Chairman of the Central Military Commission is Xi Jinping and the Vice Chairmen are Fan Changlong and Xu Qiliang.
The Supreme People's Court is the highest court in the judicial system of the People's Republic of China. Hong Kong and Macau, as special administrative regions, have their own separate judicial systems which are based on British common law traditions and Portuguese civil-law traditions respectively, and are out of the jurisdiction of the Supreme People's Court. The judges of the Supreme People's Court are appointed by the National People's Congress.
The governors of China's provinces and autonomous regions and mayors of its centrally controlled municipalities are appointed by the central government in Beijing after receiving the nominal consent of the National People's Congress (NPC). The Hong Kong and Macau special administrative regions (SARs) have some local autonomy since they have separate governments, legal systems, and basic constitutional laws, but they come under Beijing's control in matters of foreign affairs and national security, and their chief executives are handpicked by the central government. Below the provincial level in 2004 there were 50 rural prefectures, 283 prefecture-level cities, 374 county-level cities, 852 county-level districts under the jurisdiction of nearby cities, and 1,636 counties. There also were 662 cities (including those incorporated into the four centrally controlled municipalities), 808 urban districts, and 43,258 township-level regions. Counties are divided into townships and villages. While most have appointed officials running them, some lower-level jurisdictions have direct popular elections. The organs of self-governing ethnic autonomous areas (regions, prefectures, and counties)—people's congresses and people's governments—exercise the same powers as their provincial-level counterparts but are guided additionally by the Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy and require NPC Standing Committee approval for regulations they enact "in the exercise of autonomy" and "in light of the political, economic, and cultural characteristics of the ethnic group or ethnic groups in the areas."