The NPC's passage of China's long-overdue civil code will come as a morale booster for individuals and businesses. Photo: AFP

Chinese consumers are to get new safeguards against infringements of their economic and private interests through long-overdue civil code reforms.

The legislation is a bright spot to emerge from the National People’s Congress where there has been no GDP target for the ailing Chinese economy this year.

The lack of positive news has been highlighted by a new national security law to be imposed on Hong Kong and more emphasis on the Communist Party’s overarching role in steering the nation through the pandemic and social and economic malaise. 

But a draft of civil law reform with more than 1,200 clauses is set to be scrutinized and voted into law by NPC deputies on Thursday.

While putting the squeeze on political liberties, Beijing is giving people more economic and private interest protections.   

The draft totalling more than 100,000 characters is billed as being all-encompassing to codify existing laws and ordinances on economic rights and private property under one umbrella. 

Xinhua reported that the civil code bill would be an encyclopedia of business transactions and people’s daily lives to serve as an ultimate reference to settle disputes and adjudicate cases.

The draft consists of broad-stroke provisions and sections on property, renewal of land leases, contracts, marriage and family, inheritance, personal rights as well as torts and other acts deemed wrong but not criminal and which should be dealt with in a civil court. 

The bill has been years in the making after the first part, the general provisions, was adopted in 2017 under the auspices of the Communist Party as part of its “rule of law” drive. The NPC noted that its constitution and law committee had solicited opinions from lawmakers and a large cross-section of society before finalizing the draft. 

Following much deliberation to take note of recent controversies, notable new additions to the draft include stipulations regulating human genes and embryo research as well as clauses and chapters banning unauthorized entry into and surveillance of a person’s private space.

The lion’s share of the upcoming civil code is an amalgamation of existing laws that cover non-political rights and recourse, and they are promulgated under the new civil code to reconcile the differences in various legislation. Furthermore, the extension of statute of limitations for protecting civil rights will be extended to three years from two years. 

NPC deputies will scrutinize and pass the civil code on Thursday, before the conclusion of this year’s parliamentary session. Photo: Xinhua

The expectations are high that Beijing will further respect and protect property and private rights to rekindle sentiment when it rushes to resuscitate the Chinese economy hammered by Covid-19 while putting people’s political aspirations in a straitjacket. 

Property owners and prospective homebuyers can now have better protection from involuntary repossessions as well as peace of mind when their land leases expire. A land lease for a residential plot and homes built on it is typically valid for 70 years and with the new civil code, procedures are being laid down by local governments for free extension of leases or with a nominal charge. 

Private businesses will also be able to compete on a level playing field with state-owned enterprises as there are clauses in the new code guaranteeing impartial treatment and a fair trial of any economic disputes or litigations between the two. 

Other individuals can also expect better privacy protection. At present, unapproved and covert collection and sale of personal data by companies and government agencies usually go unchecked across the nation. 

But a law professor with Shanghai’s Fudan University told Asia Times that China never lacked good, well-rounded laws however many of them were never enforced after they were rubber-stamped by the NPC. 

“We also have a fairly good constitution that guarantees freedom of speech and assembly but the reality is just the opposite. It would be naive to think our non-political rights would be vigorously protected just with a passage of a very big law,” he said. 

The party’s official archive notes that Xi Zhongxun, father of Chinese President Xi Jinping, headed a legal expert panel to draft a civil code in his capacity as a deputy chair of the NPC in the early 1980s but the plan was put on ice following a U-turn by the top leadership as they were cautious not to apply too many legal fetters as China embarked on economic reforms and opening-up.