(Jan. 13, 2009) On December 27, 2008, the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress passed amendments to the Law on Protecting Against and Mitigating Disasters from Earthquakes, which was adopted more than ten years ago on December 29, 1997. The amended Law will be effective on May 1, 2009. The number of articles in the Law has been nearly doubled, from 48 to 93, and two new chapters have been added, on planning for protection against and mitigating earthquake disasters (chapter 2) and on supervisory control (chapter 7). (Authorized for Issuance: Law on Protecting Against and Mitigating Earthquake Disasters [in Chinese], XINHUANET, Dec. 27, 2008, available at http://news.xinhuanet.com/newscenter/2008-12/27/content_10568695.htm; Sixth Meeting of National People's Congress Standing Committee Votes to Pass Revised Law on Protecting Against and Mitigation Earthquake Disasters [in Chinese], LEGAL DAILY, Dec. 28, 2008, available at http://www.legaldaily.com.cn/0705/2008-12/28/content_1009132.htm.)
Among other changes, the revised Law stipulates that quake-proof standards higher than those for local buildings must be observed for construction projects such as schools, hospitals, and other sites in which people are concentrated and that effective measures should be adopted to strengthen the capacity of existing buildings to withstand earthquakes (art. 35, para. 3; art. 39). There is also a newly added requirement for schools to give instruction on earthquake emergency-response awareness and mandatory rescue training, in order to foster students' safety awareness and their capacity to rescue themselves and others. News media are responsible for issuing public interest announcements on earthquake disaster prevention and response and on self-help and mutual-help awareness (art. 44, paras. 3 & 4). The amended Law also requires grassroots governments to teach villagers about earthquake emergency response and to conduct drills to improve their safety awareness and ability to help themselves and each other (art. 44, para. 1).
The revised Law has a number of new provisions on “transitional settlements.” It is stipulated, for example, that in carrying out transitional settlement, every possible effort should be made to protect farmland and to avoid causing damage to nature reserves, sources of potable water, and ecologically fragile areas. The land used for transitional settlement should be set aside for temporary use; it may first be put into use, with procedures for that use arranged after the fact. If the time limit has expired and the land has not been transferred for use in perpetuity, it should be restored to its original use after being reclaimed (art. 61). The amendments provide that in selecting sites for reconstruction projects, earthquake fault zones or ecologically fragile areas prone to disasters such as floods, mud slides, and surface cave-ins, as well as to contagion from epidemic disease, should be avoided (art. 67, para. 2).
The revised Law encourages individuals and organizations to report to the authorities in charge about a possible earthquake or unusual phenomena. However it states that only the government, not individuals or organizations, may release earthquake forecasts to the public (arts. 26-29).
Foreign organizations or individuals who, in violation of the Law's provisions, engage in earthquake monitoring activities in the territory of China or in maritime areas under China's jurisdiction without having received approval, will be ordered by the State Council departments in charge of earthquake work to halt their unlawful activities. Monitoring results and installations will be confiscated and the perpetrators will be fined from 10,000 to 100,000 yuan (about US$1,466 to $14,656); if the circumstances are serious, they will be fined 100,000 to 500,000 yuan (art. 86, para. 1). In addition, in accordance with the provisions of the Law on Control of Aliens' Entry and Exit, foreigners who commit such acts should have their stay in China cut short or have their credentials for residing in China revoked; if the circumstances are serious, they should be given notice to leave the country or be deported (art. 86, para. 2).
Expanding on the current Law's relevant provisions, the revised Law prohibits misappropriation, withholding, and embezzlement of earthquake emergency relief funds and of funds and goods for post-quake disaster transitional settlements and for restoration and reconstruction. Governments at the county level and above are to strengthen management and supervision of the utilization of such funds and goods, make it public, and also register the collection, allocation, provision, and utilization of funds and goods, and establish and amplify files for the record (art. 77, paras. 1 & 2). The amended Law further stipulates that finance departments and auditing organs, within the scope of their respective official duties, will order those who misappropriate, withhold, or embezzle relief funds or funds and goods for transitional settlements or for restoration and reconstruction to make a correction and the misappropriated, withheld, or embezzled goods and funds to be recovered; any illegal gains will be confiscated. Work units will be given a warning or a circulated notice of criticism and responsible personnel will be given administrative sanctions (art. 90).
The amended Law also has a new, general provision prescribing pursuit of criminal liability for acts in violation of the Law's provision that constitute a crime (art. 91). (Id.; Explanation on 'The Law on Protecting Against and Mitigating Earthquake Disasters (Draft Revised Text)' [in Chinese], The Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China website, Oct. 29, 2008, available at http://www.gov.cn/jrzg/2008-10/29/content_1134041.htm; Law on Protecting Against and Mitigating Earthquake Disasters [in Chinese & English, adopted on Dec. 29, 1997, and in force on Mar. 1, 1998], http://www.lawinfochina.com/law/display.asp?ID=1097&DB=1 (last visited Jan. 8, 2008); China Sets Stricter Construction Standards for Schools after Earthquake, GOV.cn, Dec. 27, 2008, available at http://www.gov.cn/english/2008-12/27/content_1189560.htm.)