‘No separation of powers’: China’s top graft-buster seeks tighter party grip on government

Communist party must step up oversight of all aspects of public life and power, president’s trusted aide insists

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 11:22pm

Top graft-buster Wang Qishan has called on the Communist Party to tighten its oversight of all branches of power, saying there is “no such thing as the separation of powers between the party and the government”.

On the sidelines of the National People’s Congress on Sunday, Wang said the party should exercise oversight of all public bodies, including the NPC, the top political advisory body, the government and the judiciary.

“Historically the Chinese understanding of government is a broad one. In their eyes, all power branches belong to the government. There is no such thing as separation between the party and the government. There is only a division of functions. We must take a clear position and be straightforward on this issue,” Xinhua quoted him as saying.

Wang has been a key figure in President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign, which has been criticised for breaching laws and regulations. Some of the methods deployed by Wang’s agents – including the internal ­disciplinary detention process known as shanggui – have also been imposed on non-party members, raising concerns about abuse of power.

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There have been calls since the 1980s for Beijing to limit the party’s power and to separate it from administrative branches to improve checks and balances.

But Wang, Xi’s trusted aide, brushed aside these suggestions, saying the party needs to tighten control over all aspects of public life and strengthen supervision over “all public servants who exercise public power”.

Wang said work was under way for a national supervision law that would give party graft-busters investigative powers, including the power to interrogate and detain suspects. He stressed that the party had the overriding authority and control of all power branches, including the military.

The party is also setting up a national supervisory commission to combine the power of the party’s anti-graft watchdog and similar departments in the procuratorate and government.

Zhu Lijia, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance, said Wang and other leaders were trying to highlight the supremacy of the party and dismiss any doubts over the relationship between the party and government.

“The government must be placed under the leadership of the ruling party, which is entitled to govern everything, including the government,” he said.

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Hu Xingdou, a Beijing-based political analyst, debate over the distinction between the party and government had raged since the 1980s and the era of late premier Zhao Ziyang.

“What the leaders said recently was against the backdrop that we are seeing an overall trend of the concentration of power in the country when Xi is trying to tighten his own control of power as the party’s core leader,” Hu said.

The power to be given to graft busters to interrogate and detain suspects would help legitimise the party’s internal investigation practices that fell outside of mainland law, Hu said.

“Beijing has been trying to learn from the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong and other countries. Integrating internal party measures and practices into national law will be a major step to address mounting concerns and criticism that the country has been largely governed by internal party rules,” he said.