This paper assesses Pan Wei's proposal for a 'consultative rule of law system' for China, finding it a potentially important step along the path of political reform. China urgently needs political reform to deal with the rapidly mounting problems of corruption, abuse of power, financial scandals, rising crime and inequality, and declining legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. A rule of law, with an independent judiciary and other autonomous institutions of horizontal accountability, is vital if China is to rein in these problems and deliver better, fairer, more transparent and effective governance. However, Pan Wei's proposed system goes only part of the way toward addressing the deficiencies of governance in China, and is therefore best viewed as a transitional framework. To work, horizontal accountability must be supplemented with and reinforced by vertical account ability, through competitive elections, which give local officials an incentive to serve the public good and enable bad officials to be removed by the people. Ultimately, I argue, China can only achieve adequate and enduring political accountability by moving toward democracy. Among the other issues addressed in the paper are the architecture and appointment of a system of horizontal accountability for China; the role of the Communist Party (or its successor hegemon) in a 'rule of law' system; and the timing and phasing of the transition to a rule of law.
Reprinted in Suisheng Zhao, ed., Debating Political Reform in China: Rule of Law vs. Democratization, 2006.