Jun 13, 2011 11:14 AM

Social Signs Point China to The Rule of Law

China's society is at a crossroads, and its leaders know it. That's why "social management" was the focus of three, top-level meetings over the past eight months: a Politburo study session last September; a symposium in February for leading cadres from provincial governments and ministries; and a May 30 Politburo meeting on strengthening and promoting innovation in governance.

These meetings reflect the seriousness with which the nation's leaders are confronting the challenge of rising social tension. They've also acknowledged the many problems in governance, both in theory and practice, that contribute to the stress in Chinese society.

The social contradictions in today's China are undoubtedly a threat to social stability. But acknowledging these contradictions can be a first step toward necessary change, and then government leaders can begin laying down principles.

To that end, we fully agree with the Politburo which once declared that the rule of law is the foundation of governance.

The rule of law – unlike rule by law – runs contrary to the idea of rulership by a handful of leaders. The rule of law is based on effective protection of civil liberties and human rights, as well as the effective restraint of state power. Its implementation depends on the existence of an appropriate political, economic and cultural framework.

By contrast, rule by law has no such underlying values. It can be adjusted to fit different governance systems, including rule by a few.

As China prepares to strengthen "social management," it is vital not to confuse the rule of law and rule by law, nor should we use law as a mere tool for social control. Hence, the Politburo's commitment to making the rule of law a foundation of its strategy is profound.

We should bear in mind that this decision calls for government officials to resolve conflicts legally, while protecting the public interest. They must "respect the people's wishes, attend to their concerns and resolve their problems," as the Politburo has said.

For the rule of law to function, China needs a legislature that makes laws with public support, a government that strictly enforces laws, and a judiciary that independently monitors the lawfulness and legitimacy of government decisions. These are starters for improving governance.

First, the legislature. We should further improve the National People's Congress in line with the direction of the government's longstanding policy to develop an electoral system. This year's emergence of an unprecedented number of standalone candidates for local elections is a good start, and fits well with this evolutionary process.

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