by Helen Roxburgh
China this week opens its annual session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the legislature that rubber-stamps the wishes of the all-powerful Communist Party.
The following are major pieces of planned or potential legislation. Submitted proposals are nearly always approved overwhelmingly by the pliant chamber.
Hong Kong dominated headlines during last year’s session when delegates endorsed a tough security law designed to stamp out dissent against Chinese control of the semi-autonomous city, after months of violent unrest in 2019.
There is speculation that Beijing will double down in the week-long session that opens on Friday, with changes to Hong Kong’s limited electoral system that could further neuter opposition.
Chinese state media has run editorials in recent weeks saying “electoral loopholes” will be plugged and officials have said only “staunch patriots” — those loyal to the party — should be involved in governing Hong Kong.
The exact shape of any changes is unclear, but they could include removing some seats in local-level district councils. Opposition candidates scored a landslide win in district council elections in late 2019, in a clear popular rebuke to Beijing.
A proposed revision to wildlife protection laws would make permanent a temporary ban on eating most wildlife, that was announced last year after the coronavirus outbreak.
But conservationists say the change does little to prevent the spread of animal-borne diseases to humans.
They point out that the revisions still list mink and raccoons as “livestock” that can be raised in cramped cages without supervision — despite concerns that species like them may have helped spread the virus — and will do little to rein in the market for endangered animal parts.
Falling birth rates and a rise in divorce numbers have alarmed Chinese policymakers, sparking a proposal to provide counselling to couples looking to either marry or divorce, in order to “enhance familial happiness and social harmony”.
The legislation also proposes that when courts hear divorces of couples with children, the parents be given “family education guidance”, and emphasises that they should be “teaching minors to love the party, nation, people, and socialism”.
It is unclear whether the above would be mandatory.
Increasing state intrusion into private relationships is sparking public resentment. Last year’s NPC session approved a civil code that included a mandatory month-long cooling-off period for couples filing for divorce, which triggered widespread online criticism.
Data is the new oil in a Chinese digital economy that is embracing facial recognition, mobile payments and delivery by drones, but fears about identity theft have become acute.
Data security legislation would for the first time impose strict rules on how businesses collect, process and store personal information, and allow consumers to sue companies that sell their data without consent.
Penalties for violations could reach one million yuan ($155,000).