Amendment paves way for emergency bill
National legislators are expected to review a draft "state of emergency" bill by the end of the year, following a Constitutional amendment.
A proposed amendment to the Constitution replaces the wording "state of siege" with "state of emergency". If passed, the amendment will provide a constitutional basis for legislation on the state of emergency.
Deputies to the 10th National People's Congress (NPC) and members of the 10th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) hailed the change, saying it will help better safeguard the interests of the nation and its people.
Yang Haikun, a CPPCC National Committee member, said China, like any other developing countries, faces the difficult task of ensuring public safety for its 1.3 billion people.
A growing number of industrial accidents and public health crises, especially the outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) last year, have highlighted China's poor mechanism to deal with emergencies.
"The proposed change will, to the maximum degree, guarantee a smooth and timely implementation of a counterplan in case of any emergency," said Yang, also an expert on administrative law at Suzhou University.
"It will help avoid the inadequate flow of information and lack of transparency that troubled last year's fight against SARS at the initial stage," Yang said.
NPC deputy Wei Lihui said the introduction of the "state of emergency" clause will also facilitate the government's efforts to improve public safety.
Safeguarding the public safety is one of the major duties of the government. It should do that through the rule of law, supervision and a sound emergency system, said Wei.
But the country's current constitutional articles are mainly aimed at emergencies caused by political upheavals, riots and other severe turmoils and thus have a very narrow application scope.
If the proposed changes are approved, the constitution will provide the legal basis to address all emergencies including natural catastrophes, public health crises and even economic crises.
Bai Gang, another CPPCC National Committee member, went further to stress that the constitutional change will prove conducive to the country's drive to uphold the rule of law.
The change will ensure all State organs, social organizations and individuals exercise special rights and carry out special duties strictly in line with the Constitution and other related laws, said Yang, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
He said the country can also enhance its capability and efficiency to deal with emergencies to better protect the rights and interests of its citizens.
Emergency usually refers to an unforeseen combination of circumstances or the resulting state that calls for immediate action to maintain public order and ensure the safety of people's lives and property.
Extraordinary measures usually involve restrictions on citizens' rights and freedoms to varying extent.
The draft bill on the state of emergency will ensure that the country is ruled by law even under emergent circumstances, said Yu An, a professor of administrative law with the School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University.
Yu said the proposed law will set an upper limit for the State power and a floor level for the citizens' rights at the same time, forcing the government to take rational and restricted measures in a state of emergency.
Different extraordinary measures that the country can take to cope with emergencies are scattered in the various laws currently in force, such as the Flood Control Law, Law on Protecting Against and Mitigating Earthquake Disasters, Law on Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Diseases.
Yu said the law on the state of emergency, a constitutive law, deals with the common issues the country and its people face in an urgent need for assistance or relief rather than simply handle specific crises.
He said the proposed bill kicks off a process to consolidate institutions currently in place and establish a comprehensive legal system to handle contingencies.
The Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council has delegated the task of drafting the bill to a group of professors in Tsinghua University.
Yu is one of the leading scholars in this group.
He and his colleagues have come up with a draft of the law and started to solicit public opinion before handing it in to the Legislative Affairs Office of the State Council next month.
If approved by the State Council, the draft bill will go to the Standing Committee of the 10th NPC for a preliminary review in December, according to the committee's legislative agenda for this year.