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(Jul 02, 2008) China's new Regulations on Open Government Information took effect on May 1, 2008; they were issued by the State Council a year earlier, on April 5, 2007. As the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) points out, adoption of such provisions is not entirely new, as "over 30 provincial and city-level governments throughout China as well as central government agencies and departments have adopted OGI rules in the last several years," with Guangzhou being the first municipality to do so in 2002. (China Commits to 'Open Government Information' Effective May 1, 2008, CECC Web site, May 12, 2008, http://www.cecc.gov/pages/virtualAcad/index.phpd?showsingle=105351 [Note: the article contains a link to an English translation of the Regulations as well as the Chinese text].)

As CECC points out, two highlights of the Regulations are that "government agencies at all levels have an affirmative obligation to disclose certain information, generally within 20 business days," and "[c]itizens, legal persons, and other organizations (Requesting Parties) may request information and are entitled to receive a reply within 15 business days and no later than 30 business days." (Id.) The scope of disclosure is based on, among other criteria, "information that involves the vital interests of citizens, legal persons or other organizations" or that "needs to be extensively known or participated in by the general public" (art. 9, item 1). The Regulations set forth in separate articles the types of information that government agencies are to disclose at the county level and above, at the municipal level, and at the township level. For example, in the first category, county-level or above people's governments and their departments are to emphasize disclosure of information regarding plans for national economic and social development; budgets and accounts; items subject to administrative fees and the legal basis and standards therefore; matters subject to administrative licensing; information on the approval and implementation of major construction projects; policies and measures on poverty assistance, education, medical care, social security, and the like; emergency plans for "sudden public events"; and information on environmental protection, public health, safe production, and food, drug, and product quality. At the city and township level, among other types of information emphasized for disclosure is that on "requisition or land appropriation, household demolition and resettlement, and the distribution and use of compensation or subsidy funds relating thereto." (arts. 11 & 12.)

In the CECC's view, in the course of the Regulations' implementation, certain "areas to watch" include the following problematic issues: the Regulations have "no clear presumption of disclosure"; some provisions may discourage official disclosure; persons requesting information may be denied access to it on the grounds that the request does not have a recognized purpose; there may be insufficient funding and public awareness for adequate implementation; and the access to information might not apply to media. (Id.) In addition, article 8 of the Regulations contains the general prescription, "[t]he government information disclosed by administrative agencies may not endanger state security, public security, economic security and social stability."

Author: Wendy Zeldin More by this author
Topic: Freedom of information More on this topic
Jurisdiction: China More about this jurisdiction

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Last updated: 07/02/2008