Today I had the honor of being contacted by a journalist who works for the Globe and Mail – a daily newspaper which offers the most authoritative news in Canada – for an interview about shuanggui. I am posting the full text of the interview for my readers. Some more reflections about shuanggui as well as the story of how my research on shuanggui begun will be the topic of a later post.
Can I ask about the historical roots of shuanggui? Is the system rooted in some imperial Chinese practices? Or borrowed from the Soviets?
There is historical evidence pointing out to how in imperial China corrupt officials could be “detained” and investigated. (I am placing the word detained within quotation marks as notions about arbitrary detention are historically recent, hence they are perhaps not applicable to the context of imperial China). The hypothesis of a Soviet derivation of shuanggui is an hypothesis I have often encountered among Italian legal scholars who are, or were, also expert in the law of the former Soviet Union. However, this is an hypothesis Western scholars have not proved yet.
To what degree is the current shuanggui system supported by the law in China? Are there legal provisions for its existence? Or does it exist completely outside of the law?
The answers to these questions can change dramatically, depending on the conceptualization of law one adopts, and on how one chooses to conceive of shuanggui.
If law is conceptualized only as including legislative enactments that have been passed by the NPC, and if shuanggui is framed as a tool used only by Commissions for Discipline Inspection, then these questions will have to be answered in the negative.
If a broader conceptualization of law is adopted – one which acknowledges how Party legislation produces effects, and enjoys legitimacy in the eyes of members of the CCP and of Chinese state officials alike – then each one of these questions will have to be answered in the positive.
If a position consistent with certain orientations in Italian Critical Theory is adopted, then shuanggui exists both within and outside of the law. This is a position I have been known to have adopted in my past work on this topic. The problem raised by this position, though, relates to the extent to which it can effectively contribute to on-going debates on legal reform, as these debates are being held in China at the moment of writing.
A clarifying question: Is shuanggui a tool of the CCDI? Or is it operated separately?
Shuanggui is a measure used by Commissions for Discipline Inspection.
How has the use of the shuanggui system changed/expanded under Xi Jinping? Reforms in recent years have sought to end physical abuses in the shuanggui system, in particular the killing of detainees. Do you have a sense of the degree to which these reforms have been effective? How much has the system actually changed?
Under Xi Jinping, the use of shuanggui may be changing in significant ways. On December 25, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed a Decision on Conducting Reform Trials of the State Supervision System in the Municipality of Beijing, and the Provinces of Shandong and Zhejiang. This round of reform has given State Supervision Organs the power to investigate allegations of corruption offences against state officials. Before the reform, these allegations were investigated by the State Anti-Corruption Bureau China has established under its ICAC obligations, by the People’s Procuratorates, and by joint task forces which could also include Commissions for Discipline Inspection. The Standing Committee of the NPC has given State Supervision Offices various powers. These powers include the power to question (xunwen) and to detain (liuzhi) officials suspected of corruption. At the same time this round of reform was launched, the Standing Committee of the NPC ruled how the State Supervision Law would no longer be in force in Beijing, in Shandong, and in Zhejiang Province, and how other relevant legislation would have to be enforced by State Supervision Committees (jiancha weiyuanhui). This is an important development: the power to detain officials suspected of corruption in order to question them was based on Party law, but also on the State Supervision Law. Suspending the enforcement of the State Supervision Law in three different provinces means that a new solution to the challenges posed by liangzhi – the detention measure adopted on state officials but not on Party members – is in the making.
Do you see any likelihood that the shuanggui system will be abolished? Perhaps in favour of all justice being conducted according to the legal system? If no, why not? What advantages does the shuanggui system offer Chinese leadership?
As I have pointed out, reforms are in the making. It is still too early to know what this solution will be, or how this trend will develop. Nine years ago, when my article on shuanggui was published, I suggested how a feasible reform path may have involved transforming shuanggui into a form of detention enforced by People’s Procuratorates. The obvious problem with that solution lied in the fact that, if compared to Commissions for Discipline Inspection, People’s Procuratorates still enjoy a more limited measure of political autonomy. Also, at the time no one would have predicted that – one day – State Supervision Offices would have enjoyed a greater measure of autonomy. After all, they had been merged to Commissions for Discipline Inspection….
At the moment, I see the likelihood that the shuanggui system will be brought to a greater compliance with the political line of the current leadership, one which emphasizes the “Four Comprehensives”. As I have pointed out on several different occasions – including international conferences and workshops – the “Four Comprehensives” is not an empty political slogan. On the contrary, it summarizes the current policy agenda – an agenda which attempts to use the law as a tool to place meaningful limitations on power.
The shanggui system offers the obvious advantage of empowering state organs and Party organs to conduct inquiries into allegations which are notoriously difficult to investigate. Allegations can involve conducts that may have occurred either across different jurisdictions, or in non-Chinese jurisdictions. One of the biggest limitations of shuanggui – in its current form – is that the system is still seen as posing obstacles to an efficient international judicial cooperation. That is, the advantages that the system offers in investigating domestic cases are lost once alleged offences take place transnationally. China’s playing of an increasing role in economic globalization offers several opportunities, but it involves challenges as well. These challenges involve a potential spread of transnational corruption, and they require efficient and compatible regulation across borders. The shuanggui system, if reformed according to the lines recently adopted by the NPC, can provide a credible response to concerns that involve the economic systems of Western countries as well.