The Chinese Communist Party has revised its restrictions on what its members are allowed to say in public in a set of regulations published on Monday.
The amended party rules, which include new guidelines on access to information and how to handle internal complaints, were described by state media as “boosting democracy within the party”.
In an effort to motivate cadres, the new rules stipulate that work-related mistakes will no longer be treated as discipline violations.
Another article says that party members will be entitled to propose the removal of their leaders if they can prove they are incompetent.
The new rules were issued just six months ahead of the Communist Party’s centenary in July and mark an attempt to inject new life to the party rule book which was last updated 16 years ago.
However, the new rules also made clear that the party, which has 92 million members, will not tolerate its own ranks expressing dissenting views in public.
“A member of the party must not publicly express opinions that are inconsistent with decisions made by the central leadership,” said Article 16 of the revised regulations on safeguarding the rights of party members.
The wording was changed from a similar clause that bans the open expression of opinions that are the “opposite of” the leadership’s decisions.
Article 11 of the new rules stipulates that while party members are entitled to report misconduct by other members, including those who hold a higher rank, they must not disseminate such information at will and must not do so on the internet.
There was similar wording in the original version of the article but it did not single out the internet.
“On the one hand it is trying to emphasise the protection of rights of party members, but on the other hand, there’s an important line drawn to differentiate [what’s considered] inside and outside the party,” said Zhu Lijia, a professor with the state-run Chinese Academy of Governance.
State media hailed the revised regulations, which came into effect in 1995 and were amended nine years later, saying they represented progress in protecting the political rights of party members.
It is impossible to assess independently how effective the original regulations have been in protecting the right to dissent within the party.
But similar changes adopted in recent years have included clauses that restrict members of the party from airing their grievances publicly.
Officials purged from the party are often accused of straying from the party line.
The debate about the conflicts between restrictions imposed by party regulations and political rights guaranteed under China’s constitution, including freedom of speech, is not new.
In an article published in People’s Daily, the party’s mouthpiece, in 2014, Wang Qishan, then the party’s top corruption buster and now vice-president, argued that joining the Communist Party means voluntarily giving up certain rights and freedoms.
The amended regulations were published on the first working day after the new year break of 2021, a year that carries tremendous political significance for Beijing.
The Communist Party is planning extensive celebrations in the run-up to its centenary celebrations on July 1.
Zhu said the new codes were part of the effort to set new goals to mark the centenary.
While the original version contained similar disciplinary clauses, the revisions provide more details on how to make criticisms and report misconduct internally.
Party members are encouraged to report misconduct to the party’s circuit inspection teams, which investigate corruption and have been responsible for the downfall of many senior officials.
The new rules also officially incorporate references to Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, as the leader’s ideology is officially known – a concept that has already been written into the constitution.
In addition to running the government, party members also fill the top jobs in universities, scientific institutes, hospitals, the military and many private companies.