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Changes in Focus
The massive State Council restructuring creates new ministries, cuts or merges others
By Yuan Yuan | NO. 13, MARCH 29, 2018

Deputies vote for an institutional restructuring plan of the State Council at the Fifth Plenary Meeting of the First Session of the 13th National People's Congress on March 17 (XINHUA)

The institutional restructuring plan of the State Council, China's cabinet, was adopted on March 17 at the Fifth Plenary Meeting of the First Session of the 13th National People's Congress (NPC), the national legislature of China. It is the country's "biggest government reshuffle in years" as Xinhua News Agency commented and is seen as a dramatic continuation of the previous seven rounds of cabinet restructuring that began in 1982.

"The reform is unprecedentedly large, deep and expansive," said Guo An, an NPC deputy and Mayor of Nanchang, capital of east China's Jiangxi Province. "It will optimize the government's functions by promoting coordinated actions and improving levels of management and public service to better satisfy people's expectations and national developmental needs in a new era."

A massive move

In total, the number of ministerial-level entities was reduced by eight and that of vice-ministerial-level entities by seven after the reshuffle.

According to the restructuring plan, functions that have long overlapped are integrated. For example, the four ministries of land and resources, water resources, environmental protection and agriculture were involved in water pollution treatment and prevention before the shake-up. When water pollution was exposed by the media or local residents, these departments often passed the buck among themselves instead of dealing with the problem immediately. The new Ministry of Ecological Environment will be responsible for compiling and implementing ecological and environment policies, plans and standards, as well as ecological and environment monitoring and law enforcement, aiming to put all problems concerning pollution under one roof.

"The reform comes at a crucial time," Chen Xi, head of the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, said in an article in the People's Daily. "It will support the efforts over the next three years toward building a moderately prosperous society and lay a foundation for building a great modern socialist country by the middle of the century."

"When a frog jumps into a river, it is in the charge of the Ministry of Agriculture. But when the frog is back on land, it is the State Administration of Forestry's responsibility," said Lou Jiwei, a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top political advisory body, referring to the previously rigid division of responsibilities between government departments. "It is these types of problems that have confused people about where they should go when they need consultation or help."

Nie Weiguo, a CPPCC National Committee member and Director of the Executive Office of the Three Gorges Project Construction Committee of the State Council, applauded the abolishment of the committee, which oversaw the world's largest hydropower project on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River. The functions of the committee will be incorporated into the Ministry of Water Resources. "We have always clashed with the Ministry of Water Resources since our responsibilities over the Three Gorges Project overlapped," Nie said. "It has been a headache for me for a long time."

Nie said even though some central government departments are keeping their original names, their functions will change considerably. For example, many powers of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) have been transferred to newly-formed or restructured ministries and administrations. The new Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has taken over part of the functions that belonged to the NDRC as well as ministries of commerce, land and resources, and water resources before the reshuffle.

"The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs isn't simply adding the words 'rural affairs' to the name of the previous Ministry of Agriculture," said Dang Guoying, an expert on agriculture from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "The development of agriculture can't be achieved simply by working on the farmland. The change of the name shows the importance attached to the social development in rural areas."

Dang said agriculture-related funds in the past were dispatched to several departments and the Ministry of Agriculture could only manage part of the allocations. Now, with the reform, such funds will be forwarded to one ministry, optimizing its use.

The new Ministry of Natural Resources, which merges the Ministry of Land and Resources and the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation, combines oversight of all types of natural resources—from land to oceans—in one place.

The National Health Commission has been set up to promote the Healthy China initiative and ensure the delivery of comprehensive life-cycle health services to the Chinese people. The commission is responsible for formulating national health policies; coordinating and advancing medical and health care reform; establishing a national basic medical system; and supervising and administering public health, medicare, health emergencies and family planning services. It replaces the National Health and Family Planning Commission.

In addition, the Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission has been formed to replace both the China Banking Regulatory Commission and the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, with the goal of solving existing problems such as overlap in responsibilities, cross-regulation and lack of supervision. The new body will enhance oversight of both banking and insurance industries and be more effective in forestalling risks in the financial sector.

The new ones

Besides the ministries that combine or replace old ones, some totally new entities have emerged such as the ministries of veterans affairs and emergency management.

The Ministry of Veterans Affairs is in charge of making and implementing policies and regulations related to demobilized military personnel and dealing with related affairs such as their reemployment and training. Its establishment aims to protect the rights and interests of military personnel and their families, improve services and management systems for demobilized military personnel, and promote public respect for military service as an occupation.

The Ministry of Emergency Management has the responsibilities of compiling and implementing emergency management plans, as well as organizing rescue and relief for disasters and workplace accidents. It is also tasked with work safety and the prevention and control of fire, flood, drought and geographical disasters.

There are also new agencies under the State Council after the reshuffle. The International Development Cooperation Agency is formed by merging some functions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce. When unveiling the institutional restructuring plan to the First Session of the 13th NPC on March 13, State Councilor Wang Yong said the new agency will "give full play to foreign aid as a key means of major-country diplomacy."

The State Immigration Administration, set up under the Ministry of Public Security, will formulate and enforce immigration rules since "the number of foreigners working and living in China has been increasing, raising new requirements on immigration administration and services," according to Wang.

The State Market Regulatory Administration appears set to be a powerful new regulator for companies operating in China, incorporating functions of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, and the China Food and Drug Administration. The changes also create the country's first agency specializing in anti-monopoly issues.

"Different from previous rounds of institutional restructuring, which involved only government bodies and the administrative system, the new reform is more comprehensive since it involves institutions of the Party and the government, legislative and political advisory bodies, judicial and military organs, as well as social groups and non-governmental organizations," Liu He, a member of the Political Bureau of the 19th CPC Central Committee, wrote in a signed article published in the People's Daily.

Wang told lawmakers on March 13 that the reform, which focuses on institutional restructuring in key areas, will strengthen the government's functions on economic management, market regulation, social management, public services and ecological and environmental protection.

"It focuses on the needs of development and meets the people's expectations," Wang said, adding that the restructuring is part of a broader plan by the CPC to deepen the reform of the Party and state institutions. "The reshuffle will also help China build a modern economy with high-quality growth and make the government better-structured, more efficient and service-oriented."

Heads of Cabinet Departments

Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Wei Fenghe, Minister of National Defense

He Lifeng, Minister of the National Development and Reform Commission

Chen Baosheng, Minister of Education

Wang Zhigang, Minister of Science and Technology

Miao Wei, Minister of Industry and Information Technology

Bater, Minister of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission

Zhao Kezhi, Minister of Public Security

Chen Wenqing, Minister of State Security

Huang Shuxian, Minister of Civil Affairs

Fu Zhenghua, Minister of Justice

Liu Kun, Minister of Finance

Zhang Jinan, Minister of Human Resources and Social Security

Lu Hao, Minister of Natural Resources

Li Ganjie, Minister of Ecological Environment

Wang Menghui, Minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development

Li Xiaopeng, Minister of Transport

E Jingping, Minister of Water Resources

Han Changfu, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs

Zhong Shan, Minister of Commerce

Luo Shugang, Minister of Culture and Tourism

Ma Xiaowei, Minister of the National Health Commission

Sun Shaocheng, Minister of Veterans Affairs

Wang Yupu, Minister of Emergency Management

Yi Gang, Governor of the People's Bank of China

Hu Zejun, Auditor General of the National Audit Office

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

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