China to enact first civil code as investment slows

Chinese commuters walk to work wearing face masks in Beijing. (AP)
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Updated 22 May 2020

China to enact first civil code as investment slows

BEIJING: China’s parliament is poised to put in place its first civil code, a wide-ranging legislative package that includes strengthening protection of property rights in a Communist Party-ruled country, whose embrace of private ownership has long been awkward.

The civil code, in the works since 2014, will become law at a time when China needs its often-embattled private sector to step up investment to help revive a virus-battered economy, and will be a centerpiece of the annual parliamentary session that begins on Friday after a more-than two month delay.

However, the civil code is largely an amalgamation of existing laws, meaning its impact may be limited, some analysts said. And enforcement is uncertain, as courts are not independent and ultimately answer to the party, although legal reforms in recent years have aimed to give judges more independence and rein in local officials’ influence over courts.

The civil code, which among other provisions protects personal information and makes it easier to divorce or sue for sexual harassment, is expected to spell out the clearest boundary yet between government and markets since the 1949 founding of the People’s Republic of China.

It is a cornerstone of President Xi Jinping’s push to reform the country’s legal system by 2020, even as China has tightened controls on civil society and expanded party control under his leadership.

The legislation — on paper at least — reduces the scope for bureaucratic meddling and abuse that have often bedevilled private firms and property owners in a country where business owners were not allowed to join the Communist Party until 2001 and are still treated with suspicion by some party officials.

“It gives more complete protection to the rights of the individual,” said Wang Jiangyu, a law professor at the City University of Hong Kong.

“The bigger context is, is this a country that adheres to the rule of law? Is the government really executing the law?“

Implementation of the code, which incorporates existing laws including those covering property, contracts and torts, reflects long-running concerns among business owners over protection of personal and property rights.

“All private firms have their ‘original sin,’” Xu Bin, a steel trader in Henan province, told Reuters in March, referring to the sometimes dubious actions taken by entrepreneurs in the early days of China’s reform and opening.

FASTFACT

A 2017 survey on the climate for private sector firms found companies in China rated “legal fairness” 4 out of 10.

Some worry those “sins” can still be used against them.

A 2017 survey on the climate for private sector firms by Unirule Institute of Economics, a now-defunct liberal Beijing-based think tank, found companies rated “legal fairness” 4 out of 10.

“Without legal protection, private businessmen don’t feel safe. Our survey showed that they think there is a 22.5 percent chance of danger to themselves and a 26.8 percent chance that their assets are at risk,” Sheng Hong, an independent scholar who was previously Unirule’s executive director, told Reuters.

However, the civil code will not protect entrepreneurs in criminal cases.

“Since the Civil Code only covers civil disputes, it does not help protect property rights against seizure of assets by the state, a most important concern among entrepreneurs,” said Xin Sun, a lecturer in Chinese and East Asian business at King’s College London.

Private sector investment in China has slowed sharply, to the worry of officials, from more than 20 percent growth when Xi assumed power to single digits in recent years. It fell 13 percent during the coronavirus-battered first four month of this year, compared with a 7 percent decline for state companies.

In an April meeting chaired by Xi, the Communist Party’s decision-making Politburo said the government would support the private economy and development of small and medium-sized firms, which remain excluded from several industries and have difficulties securing bank credit.

“The civil code could restore confidence of private business owners and to help prop up economic growth,” said Hu Xingdou, a retired economics professor with Beijing Institute of Technology.

Sun, of King’s College, isn’t so sure, saying the civil code brings little added protection for rights and property, and is more symbol than substance.

“China does have a comprehensive system of high-quality written laws but a lot of concerns arise from their enforcement rather than the laws themselves,” he said.


Saudi Arabia, Iraq confirm full commitment to OPEC+ agreement- statement

Updated 47 min 4 sec ago

Saudi Arabia, Iraq confirm full commitment to OPEC+ agreement- statement

  • Both countries ministers said efforts by OPEC+ to meet their output cuts will enhance market stability

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia and Iraq on Monday confirmed their full commitment to the OPEC+ agreement.
Saudi Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, and Iraqi Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar Ismail held discussions on developments in the oil markets, the improved global demand for oil, and progress in implementing the current OPEC+ agreement to reduce production.
OPEC and its allies led by Russia, a group known as OPEC+, agreed to cut oil output from May by a record 9.7 million barrels per day (bpd) after the coronavirus crisis destroyed a third of global demand.
The record cuts are now due to run to the end of July, before tapering to 7.7 million bpd until December.
But some OPEC members have not fully delivered on their agreed production cuts since May.
During a phone call, the Saudi minister commended Iraq’s performance within the framework of the agreement, as the country’s level of commitment in June reached nearly 90 percent.
Prince Abdulaziz thanked the Iraqi minister for his efforts in reaching the target, and expressed his confidence that Iraq will continue to improve its level of compliance with the oil cuts.
Ismail said Iraq would continue to improve compliance with the cuts to reach 100 percent by the start of August, pledging to compensate from July to September for the overproduction in May and June.
Both ministers also said that efforts by OPEC+, and the participating countries in the agreement, to meet their output cuts would enhance market stability and speed up their balanced recovery.

  • With Reuters