Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao signed a regulation to improve government transparency on Tuesday. Various headlines about the move:
Government-controlled China Daily:
Statute to make government open, clean
Washington Post, 2007.04.24:
China Announces Rules to Require Government Disclosures
New York Times, 2007.04.25:
China Sets Out to Cut Secrecy, but Laws Leave Big Loopholes
This crux of the matter comes out at the end of the NYT’s story by Jim Yardley:
At face value, these new rules would seem to create broad new public rights to once secret information. Farmers, for example, have routinely been denied access to official records in their efforts to fight illegal land seizures….
But, in fact, the new rules include exclusions that could allow officials substantial latitude in deciding what they choose to make public.
The regulations said that local governments must “steer clear” of releasing any information defined as a “state secret,” a major exception given that China designates a wide range of information as state secrets.
This is apparently a small simplification as China Daily points out:
The rules stipulate those releasing information steer clear of releasing “State secrets, confidential commercial information and infringing on an individual’s privacy”.
But administrative staff can put confidential information in the public domain when they believe not doing so would seriously prejudice the public interest.
In the end, it seems as though the new regulation encourages transparency and yet allows a large loophole protecting government secrecy. One can only hope that the loophole is eliminated or ignored.