Posts tagged: Chinese Criminal Law

Without Committing a Crime, Five Female Activists Detained in China

By , March 15, 2015

International Women's DayWhile the rest of the world celebrated International Women’s Day (March 8) with gender equality marches, women empowerment conferences, and female-oriented concerts, the Chinese government opted for a decidedly different approach: detaining a number of Chinese women activists.

On March 6 and 7, 2015, in various cities across China, public security officials rounded up at least 10 women, each of whom sought to mark International Women’s Day with a nation-wide campaign highlighting the increase in sexual harassment on public transportation.  Their goal?  To pass out leaflets and stickers calling for the end of such sexual harassment and for the police to take some action against sexual harassment on public transportation.

One of the five detained, Wu Rongrong, founder and executive director of the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou

One of the five detained, Wu Rongrong, founder and executive director of the Weizhiming Women’s Center in Hangzhou

While five of these 10 women have been released, five were officially criminally detained on Friday allegedly under the Chinese government’s increasing catch-all for ideas and speech it does not like: “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” (Article 293(4) of China’s Criminal Law).

“It is extremely alarming that these five young women have been criminally detained for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’” Dr. Leta Hong Fincher, author of Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, wrote in an email to China Law & Policy.  “The women were merely planning to commemorate International Women’s Day by raising awareness about sexual harassment on public transportation – hardly an issue that would threaten the central government’s power or social stability in any way.”

In fact, the Chinese government itself has noted the growing problem of sexual harassment – including groping, rubbing and pictures taken under one’s skirt – on public transportation.  Unfortunately, instead of stepping up law enforcement of this quality-of-life crime, the Chinese government has largely left it to women to combat this harassment, urging female riders to forgo wearing mini-skirts or “hot pants” and looking to have women-only subway cars during rush hour.

Another of the detained, Wei Tingting (right), the director of Ji’ande, an LGBT rights organization based in Beijing

Another of the detained, Wei Tingting (right), 27 and director of Ji’ande, an LGBT rights organization based in Beijing

“The detention of these women reveals the hollowness of [the] Chinese government claims of commitment to gender equality, particularly as China prepares to co-host the 2015 Global Women’s Summit at the United Nations, and the world marks the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing” Dr. Hong Fincher wrote to China Law & Policy.

But if you think detaining people for leafleting an issue we can all get behind is scary, here is the real frightening part: these five women – Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wang Man and Li Tingting – never actually committed a crime, even under Chinese law.  By detaining these women prior to March 8 – when they were going to distribute their stickers and pamphlets – the women never caused a public disturbance as required by Article 293 of China’s Criminal LawPu Zhiqiang, Cao Shunli, Xu Zhiyong, all detained, arrested or jailed for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” were at least able to partake in their “public disturbance” before the authorities took them away.  These women did not.  At most, in their attempt to make this a nation-wide campaign, they amassed an online following, all eager to partake in the March 8 events.

One of the detained, Zheng Churan, 25, and staff member of Yirenping based in Guangzhou

One of the detained, Zheng Churan, 25, and staff member of Yirenping based in Guangzhou

But, as Jeremy Daum at China Law Translate has noted, the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and Supreme People’s Procuratorate’s (SPP) Joint Interpretation of Article 293 (July 2013) makes it clear that causing a disturbance by picking quarrels must happen in some kind of public venue – a bus station, a market, a train station, a park, or “other public venue.” In prosectuting an Article 293(4) case, the courts are required to analyze the totality of the circumstances, including the type of public venue, the number of people attending the event, etc.  (See Article 5 of the Joint Interpretation of Article 293).

Further, as Daum has highlighted, even the SPC’s and SPP’s controversial Joint Interpretation on Internet Speech Crimes (Sept. 2013), which does interpret Article 293(4) of the Criminal Law, would only apply in situations where the individual has spread rumors on the internet or other online network.  The only public prosecution under Article 293(4) involving the internet – the case of blogger Qin Houhou – is precisely this situation.  In addition to being charged with violating Artcile 293(4) – the picking quarrels provision – Qin was also charged and convicted of criminal slander.

Another detained activist, Li Tingting, 25 and Beijing-based manager of the LGBT program at the Beijing Yirenping Center

Another detained activist, Li Tingting, 25 and Beijing-based manager of the LGBT program at the Beijing Yirenping Center

By criminally detaining these women, the Chinese police have stepped up this game, making a formal arrest and prosecution more likely.  While prosecution under Article 293(4) usually has a maximum prison sentence of five years, that sentence can be extended to 10 years where the defendant organizes others to commit the disturbance multiple times.  Given that these women likely were the organizers of the event, a 10 year prison term is a possibility.  Even though the current charge is groundless under Chinese law.

On Friday, the U.S.’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, tweeted her disgust with the Chinese government’s detention of Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wang Man and Li Tingting.  But the United States, and the rest of the world, must maintain this rhetoric.

 

Fifth detained activist, Wang Man, Beijing-based coordinator for the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP).

Fifth detained activist, Wang Man, Beijing-based coordinator for the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP).

Twenty years ago, in Beijing China, Hillary Clinton ignored Chinese pressure to soften her remarks at United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women.  Instead, she rocked the world by forcefully stating that ” human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”  It’s time that Secretary Clinton, a potential presidential candidate, renew that sentiment and call for the release of these women – innocent even under Chinese law.

Use of China’s Exclusionary Rule & Its Potential Impact on Upcoming CPL Adoption

By , October 10, 2011

Over at the US-Asia Law Institute’s blog, research fellow, Jeremy Daum has just published a thought provoking article on the Zhang Guoxi case, the first case to publicly – and perhaps most effectively – use China’s exclusionary rule to exclude evidence that was obtained through torture.

In June 2010, China surprised the world by issuing detailed rules on the use of evidence obtained through torture, essentially excluding it as the basis of conviction when the prosecutor could not show that the evidence was obtained legally and without torture.  China Law & Policy blogged about these new rules here and here.

On paper, the new rules provided hope that the police would reign in their ardent use of torture as a means to obtain a conviction.  But in practice, it appeared that the courts, the enforcers of the new exclusionary rules, had little institutional power to control the more powerful police and prosecutor’s offices.  This fear appeared to be realized when the Supreme People’s Court, a few weeks after the Rules’ adoption, chose not to apply them to overturn a death sentence that appeared to be based on a confession obtained through torture.

But as Daum describes below, a trial court in Ningbo has done what scholars thought was impossible – use the exclusionary rules to deny the use of a suspect’s confession where the prosecutor was unable to, or more aptly was too arrogant to provide evidence that the confession was obtained legally.

The Ningbo trial court did not just stop there.  Instead, the trial court issued a clear and transparent opinion on its decision, reflecting its reliance on the letter of the law concerning the new exclusionary rules. As Daum notes below, in China such an opinion from a trial court is rare making Daum wonder, what impact will the appellate court’s decision (the decision has now been appealed to the intermediary court), and the public’s response, have on the Chinese government’s impending adoption of an amended Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”).

Below is an excerpt of Daum’s interesting article with a link to the full version.

 

Zhang Guoxi Case: a simple case of bribery?

Excluded : The Zhang Guoxi Case

By Jeremy Daum
Research Fellow, US-Asia Law Institute, NYU Law School

Normally, ‘dog bites man’ is not news, but in the generally bleak climate for reform that pervades China’s criminal justice system, a story of “judge upholds law” has gained some traction in the Chinese media. As Chinese and foreign experts scrambled to absorb new draft revisions to China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) in time to offer their opinions during the single month allotted for public comment, another less publicized story was also making waves in the legal community. A trial court in Ningbo has been hailed as the first to give full force to rules on the exclusion of illegally gathered evidence jointly introduced slightly over a year ago by China’s Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, Ministry of Justice and top law enforcement agencies (“the Rules”), by excluding a confession and allowing a defendant to go unpunished…

…The case itself is remarkable only in its mundanity.  It is an ordinary bribery case in which Zhang Guoxi (章国锡), an official from a local construction administration project, was accused of abusing his office to accept seventy-six thousand yuan (about $12,000 U.S.) in graft over four years. The mistreatment that Zhang allegedly received at the hands of interrogators is also not the sort of blood-curdling horror story that “shocks the conscience” or that one might expect would provoke a judge to take a stance against his investigative and prosecutorial colleagues, risking his career and reputation….

….What is exceptional about the case is instead the trial court’s insistence that prosecutors and investigators follow both the spirit and the letter of the law.

Read the full article here.

Ai Weiwei – Artist, Dissident and….Tax Evader?

By , June 30, 2011

Getting caught for tax evasion

Originally posted on the Huffington Post

Taxes are a tricky business in any country, let alone China.  Tax codes are usually overly complicated and let’s face it, if you are making money, you can afford to hire accountants who think “creatively.”  American country singer Willie Nelson owed close to $32 million dollars in back taxes when the IRS declared one of the tax shelters his accountant was using to be in violation of the U.S. tax code (he later settled for $16 million, raising the majority of that money through the sale of his album entitled “The IRS Tapes: Who Will Buy My Memories?”); Leona Helmsey, the billionaire New York City hotel operator, served four years in prison for tax fraud (Helmsey allegedly enlightened her staff on a regular basis that “We don’t pay taxes.  Only the little people pay taxes.”); and Al Capone, mafia hitman, bootlegger and perhaps the most famous tax evader of all time, served his longest sentence, seven years, for tax evasion.

When Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei was freed from police custody last Wednesday, the question was raised, most notably by Brian Lehrer in his interesting interview with Human Rights Watch’s Phelim Kine: “are you sure his detention was for being a critic of the government and not for evading taxes?”

Since his release, the Chinese government has vaguely issued more information about the investigation that landed Ai in criminal detention for the past two and a half months.  Although neither formally charged, arrested nor indicted, Chinese officials stated that Ai was held for “failure to pay a ‘huge amount’ of taxes and for willfully destroying financial documents.”  In particular, officials alleged that Ai’s company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. failed to pay 5 million RMB (USD 770,000) and owed an additional 7.3 million RMB (USD 1.1 million) in penalties.

But the question remains, what is Ai’s individual liability for a corporation’s tax evasion?  Is he financially liable?  Can

In 2008, Ai was a Chinese government darling, designing the acclaimed Birdsnest Stadium

he be criminally prosecuted?

The answer is….you betcha,  if it is determined that Ai had some form of “direct responsibility” over Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd.

Article 201 of China’s Criminal Law criminalizes tax evasion (Amendment VII to the Criminal Law Amends Article 201).  Like many laws in China, the actual law is not the end all and be all.  Because China is a civil law country, often the generalities of the national law are fleshed out in various agencies’ “interpretations.”  Here, Article 201, is further defined through the “Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court on Some Issues concerning the Specific Application of Laws in the Trial of Criminal Cases for Tax Evasion and Refusal to Pay Tax” (“SPC Interpretation”).

The SPC Interpretation further defines tax evasion as: (a) forging, altering, concealing or destroying without authorization accounting books or supporting vouchers for the accounts; (b) overstating expenses or not stating or understating income in accounting books; (c) being notified by the tax authority to file tax returns but refusing to do so; (d) filing false tax returns; and(e) after paying the tax, fraudulently regaining the tax paid through the adoption of deceptive means such as fraudulently declaring the commodities it produces or operates as export goods.

But while Article 201 and the corresponding SPC Interpretation only uses the term “taxpayer,” Article 211 of the Criminal Law clarifies liability when the taxpayer is a corporation or business unit: “Units committing offenses under Articles 201, 203, 204, 207, 208, and 209 of this section shall be punished with fines, with personnel directly in charge and other directly responsible personnel being punished according to these articles, respectively.”

Thus if Ai Weiwei is determined to be a “personnel directly in charge” (直接负责的主管人员) of the Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. he could potentially be criminally and economically liable.  Ai’s family has maintained that Ai cannot be on the hook because he is not the company’s “chief executive or legal representative.”  However, the Chinese for “personnel directly in charge” is not limited to just the chief executive or legal representative; rather it is anyone in the company with management responsibility (主管人员 is better translated as executive officer).

Ai Weiwei - a directly responsible person?

Furthermore, the second category “other directly responsible personnel”(其他直接责任人员) contemplates a much broader group of people that could potentially be anyone affiliated with the company that has some type of vaguely-defined “direct responsibility” over the company.

Potentially, there could be some validity to the alleged charges against Ai for Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. if the company did in fact evade taxes.  The Chinese government has yet to offer any evidence of the company’s tax evasion.  The company’s attorneys have appealed the charges of tax evasion and have requested a hearing before the Beijing Tax Bureau.

But if there is tax evasion, Ai’s liability will ultimately be determined by defining what his precise role is within the company.  According to friends and family members, Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. merely dabbled in small design projects; the company was not involved in selling Ai’s work.  In fact, according to Ai’s family, it is his wife who is registered as the company’s legal representative not Ai; Ai was a mere consultant.

And while the Chinese government could potentially have a legitimate claim against Ai for the company’s tax evasion, it’s illegal detention of Ai, the fact that there is still no official indictment, the fact that the government continues to hold incommunicado the company’s accountant, the one person who could explain the company’s actual tax filings, and that the government went after Ai instead of his wife, the legal representative of the Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd., makes one suspect that the potential charges against Ai are a legal long-shot.  Instead, political considerations – the need to silence one of Beijing’s most vocal and well-known critics – are the real reasons behind the prosecution of Ai.  Again, the rule of law in China takes a back seat to politics and Party supremacy.

Don Clarke & Li Tiantian: Two Takes on the Jasmine Revolution in China

China's Jasmine Revolution?

In February 2011, the Chinese government began a quick and widespread crackdown on Chinese rights-defending (“weiquan”) lawyers and activists, abducting many for days to months on end, some subject to torture while in government custody.  The general narrative that has emerged to explain this recent crackdown is the Chinese government’s fear that an Egypt-like democratic revolution could occur in China, overturning the Chinese Communist Party’s one-party rule.

Make no mistake these extrajudicial abductions are not permissible under Chinese criminal law and like other countries, there are laws in China that restrict the government.  Under Chinese Criminal Procedure Law (“CPL”), a detention warrant issued by a public security organ must be presented when an individual is taken into custody (CPL Art. 64); either the family members or the employer of the detained individual must be informed of the reasons for the detention within 24 hours (CPL Art. 64); the first interrogation of the detained person must be conducted within the first 24 hours (CPL Art. 65); after the first interrogation, the detained person has the right to retain a lawyer and the lawyer has a right to meet with his or her client (CPL Art. 96 – note that this provision makes it legal for the first interrogation to be conducted without a lawyer present); and after 37 days in custody, the detained individual must either be arrested or released (CPL Art. 69).  Additionally, Article 238 of the Chinese Criminal Law criminalizes any unlawful detention or deprivation of personal liberty, imposing a harsher criminal sanction on state functionaries.

So the question remains, if the Chinese government just flouts these laws, why does it bother?

Rule of Law in China?

And what does this say about its progression toward a rule of law, a progression the Chinese government maintains is its goal?

Prof. Donald Clarke of George Washington University Law School came out with a rather thought-provoking essay last Thursday, seeking to answer some of these questions, and put China’s ‘rule of law’ development in some sort of perspective.  In “China’s Jasmine Crackdown and the Legal System,” Prof. Clarke dispenses with the conventional idea that China was ever on the path toward a rule of law.  Defining a rule of law as a system “where there are meaningful restraints on the powers of government” and that “those in power cannot do simply as they please,” Prof. Clarke maintains that the Chinese government never had the intention to be held accountable; its quest toward a “rule of law” for the past 30-odd years has just been about creating government efficiencies.  In 1978, to become a successful market economy, the Chinese leadership had to create some legal system since Mao had all but dispensed with law by the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).  But while these developments in the economic-legal sphere might have the looks of a rule of law, scholars are wrong to think that it was ever the government’s intention to be held accountable under a true rule of law system.  Many of the Chinese government’s recent actions, including the crackdown on rights-defending lawyers, exemplify the leadership’s anti-commitment to a rule of law.

Rights-defending Lawyer Li Tiantian

There is something to be said for Prof. Clarke’s assessment and in many ways it is accurate: the leadership appears unwilling to allow anything it deems “political” to be handled by the legal system and this appears to explain its harsh assault the past few years on rights-defending lawyers.  It’s commitment to a “rule of law,” a commitment it repeatedly states in various US-China dialogues, seems specious if it does not allow a space for rights-defending lawyers.  But Prof. Clarke’s analysis is very top-down and doesn’t take into effect the rights-defending lawyers themselves.  And this is where the other fascinating essay from last Thursday comes into play, Li Tiantian’s blog post “I was Discharged from the Hospital” (translation courtesy of Siweiliozi’s Blog).  Li Tiantian is a Shanghai-based rights-defending lawyer, taken into custody on February 19, 2011 and held incommunicado for three months, finally released on May 24, 2011.  In a highly allegorical essay, Li Tiantian recounts her captivity:

It’s been a while since I’ve been in touch. First, let me tell you a story.

One day, a hornet worried unreasonably that a little bird would stir up its nest. (As it happened, some distant hornet nests had recently been stirred up.) The hornet grabbed the little bird and began stinging it frenziedly. Unable to bear the hornet’s stings and thinking there was no point to suffering this ordeal, the bird realized that no one would gain anything and that there was no way to change the hornet’s ways. So, the bird kneeled down to the hornet and kowtowed in order to extricate itself. The hornet, knowing that the force of justice was on the increase in the animal world, didn’t dare do anything rash to the bird and came up with a plan that would satisfy everyone. It agreed to release the little bird, but only if the bird promised: (1) not to speak of the past few months; (2) not to damage the hornet’s reputation; and (3) not to urge other animals to stir up the hornet’s nest. Finally the bird was free. (…read more here…)

Li Tiantian’s publication of this blog post soon after her release belies her commitment to any kind of silence concerning her unlawful detention.  The fact that her blog post was pulled – likely by the Chinese government – a few days later is not surprising.  But her brazenness is.  After three months in custody, unable to communicate to the outside world, and subject to heaven’s knows what, Li still feels the need to speak; still feels the need to give push back to the government.

Prof. Clarke presents a government that doesn’t want to give people like Li Tiantian any space; but Li Tiantian has no plans to give up that easily.  True that since many of the lawyers’ release, most have kept out of the spotlight, but will they continue to do so?  And how can the Chinese government expect them to?

Prof. Clarke is right to contend that the Chinese Communist Party is not interested in a “rule of law” if it means that it will contain the Party.  But after 30 years of constantly reiterating – both domestically and abroad – the idea of a rule of law, sending lawyers, judges, and academics abroad to study Western countries’ legal systems, and inviting various foreign legal NGOs to establish offices in China and work with Chinese layers, some belief in a rule of law must have permeated  society, especially for academics and rights-defending lawyers, the beneficiaries of much of China’s rule of law programs.

Prof. Clarke compares the Chinese government to a well organized army: sure there are lots of bureaucratic rules that must be followed, but those rules are not intended to be followed by the commander.  For Prof. Clarke, an army, with all the rules that help it function, is in no way a rule of law society.

But running a society is different from running an army; unquestionable allegiance to hierarchy is not naturally found in society like it is among foot soldiers in an army.  Ultimately, Prof. Clarke’s essay raises another question: while the Chinese government has little interest in rule of law, will these rights-defending lawyers succumb and just disappear?  Li Tiantian’s essay upon her release heavily implies that the answer is no and that among some in China, there is a true commitment to a greater rule of law, even if not found within the ruling party.

When the Murder Victim Turns Up Alive – Will Justice Be Served?

By , July 21, 2010

Zhao Zuohai, freed after 11 years in jail for a murder that never happened

May 2, 2010 was the day that Zhao Zuohai got his life back.  It was also the day that China was forced to re-examine its criminal justice system and deal with the very real fact that many innocent people in China are in jail.

In 1999, after being tortured for 33 days, including being handcuffed to a chair, beaten with sticks and denied eating and sleeping for long periods of time, Zhao Zuohai, a poor farmer from a village in Henan Province, confessed to killing a fellow villager who had gone missing.  Although only a behead body was found, its identity not 100% certain, Zhao was convicted of murder.  But after Zhao served 10 years of his 29-year sentence, the “murder victim” turned up alive, returning to his village to obtain his social security benefits.  On May 10, 2010, a court threw out Zhao’s conviction and Zhao returned to his village.

Zhao’s wrongful conviction led to a very open critique of the Chinese criminal justice system and produced changes.  At least on paper.  A month after Zhao was freed, China passed its first rules to exclude during a trial any confessions obtained through torture.  While the regulations had been a work in progress for at least the past year, Zhao’s case likely sped up their issuance.  Then, on Friday, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate  took action, upgrading its compensation scheme for wrongful conviction from 111.99 yuan (approximately $16.50) to 125.43 yuan (approximately $18.50) for every day of a person’s sentence.

Although the recent police investigation into the circumstances surrounding Zhao’s detention has been surprisingly candid, with the public release last week of the police’s investigation (in the form of a “prosecution recommendation proposal” as required by Article 129 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL)), actual repercussions for the perpetrators remain to be seen.  While five police officers have been charged with “forcing a confession,” all remain free out on China’s equivalent of bail.  Unlike in the U.S., bail is notoriously uncommon in China, where suspects remain in custody up until trial.  The example of Australian national Stern Hu is typical – denied bail even though he posed little to no flight risk.

The decision to release a suspect on bail is usually made by a high official in the police or the prosecutor’s office.  And if the recent case of Xu Zhiyong is any guide, bail means that the case will likely never go to trial.  While it creates a legal limbo for the suspect, the suspect remains free, which beats sitting in a Chinese prison.

The fact that the five police officers responsible for the torture of Zhao Zuohai are on bail means that a trial against them is unlikely.  Additionally, a recent article by Shen Bin, a Shanghai lawyer, questions if a case can even be brought against the police (English translation courtesy of the Dui Hua Foundation).  Article 87 of the Criminal Law (CL) sets a statute of limitation for criminal prosecutions; for crimes that receive a sentence of five years or less, the statute of limitations is five years. In this case, the maximum sentence the police could receive is three years (CL Article 247), making the statute of limitations for bringing a case five years, which Zhao Zuohai’s case has long surpassed. Article 88 of the CL permits the statute of limitations to be ignored if the victim brought a charge of prosecution and the prosecutor ignored it, but it is unclear if Zhao Zuohai’s complaints of torture soon after his conviction are sufficient to rise to the level of “charge of prosecution.”

Zhao Zuohai’s wrongful conviction case confirms a criminal justice system that has a lot of failings.  But it also shows a somewhat more open Chinese government willing to confront some of these issues and a populace seeking to better protect criminal suspects.  However, with the fact that the police who tortured Zhao remain free on bail with little risk of prosecution, China still has a way to go before the danger of wrongful convictions is minimized.

China’s New Rules on Illegally-Obtained Evidence – Finally Published But Less than Expected

By , June 29, 2010

In our June 2, 2010 post – “A Paper Tiger?” – we discussed China’s newly adopted “Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence in Criminal Cases.” At that time, the Regulations were not publicly available and we based our analysis on a summary of the regulations published in the state-run media by Prof. Fan Chongyi, a noted criminal procedure expert at the China University of Politics and Law.

Last week, the Chinese government finally publicly issued the “Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence in Criminal Cases” (English translation courtesy of DuiHua Foundation; Chinese version here).  These Regulations do not portray the sophistication found in Prof. Fan’s analysis, showing that perhaps Chinese legal academia is more progressive and more committed to legal reform than the Chinese government.  This shouldn’t be surprising.  In order for these Regulations to really have an impact, it was necessary to bring on board China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) and Ministry of State Security (MSS), two police bodies that, as in most cultures, are inherently conservative and do not like their investigative powers reined in by the law.  While the Regulations are a step forward, it is a bit disappointing that they do not go as far as we had originally hoped.

In addition to some of the issues noted in our previous post, the Regulations raise some of the following issues:

  • Will a Chinese court ever conduct an investigatory hearing as to the legality of the confession? Articles 6 and 7 of the Regulations govern the burden of proof when raising the issue of a confession gained through torture.  Similar to the law in the U.S., under the Regulations, the defense has the right to raise the issue of a confession obtained through torture but must offer a sufficient factual basis for the court to order a hearing on the matter.  Similarly, the Chinese regulations places a minimum burden on the defense to offer some factual basis for its claim; Article 6 calls for the defense to provide the name of the person who performed the torture, the time the torture occurred, the place, the manner and the content of the torture in order for the court to call for further investigation.  If the defense can offer that minimal evidence, the court assumes that the confession was obtained illegally and the burden of proof switches to the prosecutor to offer evidence or testimony that the confession was obtained legally as required by Article 7.

But Article 6 and 7 provide no standards for the evidence.  For the defense, Article  6 requires that some “leads” or “evidence” be provided to the court.  While the Article 6 offers some examples of what the leads or evidence could be, does the defense have to provide all of those examples?  If so, how would a defendant know the names of his interrogators?  There isn’t necessarily a polite introduction aspect to an interrogation. Will a defendant, after a few rounds of torture, even remember the time and the place of the torture?  Likely the few pieces of evidence a defendant would be able to offer is the manner and content of the torture.  But it is unclear if just those two pieces of evidence would be sufficient for the court to switch the burden of proof to the prosecutor.

If the court does happen to order a shift in the burden of proof, Article 7 is similarly silent on the sufficiency of evidence a prosecutor needs to provide to show that the confession was gained legally.  In fact, Article 7 is even less clear on what that evidence should be offered and provides little guidance as to what a judge should consider and the weight of any evidence.  Would a court find a signed statement from one of the interrogators stating that there was no torture enough evidence?  Article 7 does state that audio and video recordings could be sufficient, but does not mandate this type of evidence.  If Article 7 had mandated that the prosecutor provide video or audio evidence of the interrogation, then the Regulations would be a huge step forward in preventing torture during an interrogation.  Perhaps in practice courts will de facto require such evidence, giving more bite to the Regulations.  But nothing in the Regulations themselves currently mandate video or audio evidence.

  • Is a prosecutor able to delay the trial indefinitely? Interestingly, Article 7 also offers the prosecutor the opportunity to postpone the trial so that he or she can obtain more evidence to show that the confession was obtained legally. In accordance with the Regulations, the prosecutor would request a postponement under the Article 165 of the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL).  However, Article 165 of the CPL contemplates three different situations in which a trial could be delayed, two of which are applicable in a case where a prosecutor needs more evidence to prove the legality of a confession: (1) the need to notify a new witness to appear in court or to obtain new physical evidence and (2) when the public prosecutor discovers there is a need to conduct a supplementary investigation.  Only the latter situation contains a one-month time restriction (see CPL Article 166); postponement due to the need to notify witnesses or obtain new physical evidence does not have a time restriction.  While CPL Article 165(2) seems most applicable to situations where a prosecutor requests more time to obtain evidence to show that a confession was obtained legally, a court could postpone a trial on the grounds found in CPL Article 165(1), especially if the court is pressured by the Chinese Communist Party, through an adjudication committee, to give the prosecutor more time to obtain enough evidence to convict.  Until courts have greater independence, expect outside influence in politically-important cases.  Articles 8 and 9 of the Regulations also allow a postponement in the trial for further investigation: Article 8 is at the request of the court and Article 9 is at the request of the prosecutor during the trial.  Neither Article 8 nor Article 9 reference any portion of the CPL which would limit the time of the postponement.  In fact, the language in Article 9 is very closely aligned with the language found in CPL Article 165(1), which does not limit the time length or the postponement.
  • Does the appeals process offer greater protection from illegally-obtained confessions? Article 12 contemplates an appeal process and creates an incentive for the defense to raise the issue of an illegally-obtained confession at trial.  Under Article 12, if the defense alleges that the defendant’s confession was obtained through torture, the court refuses to investigate the allegation, and the court uses the confession as a basis for a conviction, then on the appeal – or what is known in China as the “trial in the second instance” and the court retries the case – the appellate court must conduct an investigation.  This appears similar to the U.S. system of raising an objection on the trial level in order to “preserve” the issue for appeal.  But looking more closely at Article 12, a lot more elements are required to preserve the objection.  In the U.S., filing a motion to suppress evidence or merely objecting to an issue at trial, even if overruled, is enough to preserve the issue for appeal and if properly preserved, the appellate court must re-examine the trial court’s decision.  But in China, under Article 12, it’s not enough that the issue is raised and overruled, the confession must also be a basis of a conviction to require the court of the second instance (the appellate court) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the confession.

In addition to using the confession as a basis of the defendant’s conviction, the court of the first instance must also have rejected the defense’s request to conduct an investigation; in other words, the court must have found the evidence provided by the defense under Article 6 of the Regulations insufficient to switch the burden of proof to the prosecutor and conduct an investigation under Article 7 of the Regulations.  But if the court in the first instance conducts the investigation and finds that the prosecutor offered enough evidence to rebut the defense’s allegation, on appeal, the court in the second instance is not required to re-investigate the issue of the legality of the defendant’s confession.  Given the loosey-goosey parameters of the evidence required of the prosecutor under Article 7, the trial finding the prosecutor’s evidence sufficient is likely.

Article 12 mandates that court of the second instance conduct an investigation if the three elements found in Article 12 are met.  But there is nothing in Article 12 that forbids the court of the second instance to investigate the allegations of illegality if less than all three of the elements of Article 12 are present; there is just nothing that requires it.  In fact, CPL Article 186 gives the appellate court the power to reexamine all issues in a case, even if outside the scope of the appeal or protest.  So ultimately, it is within the power of the court in the second instance to conduct an investigation concerning a defendant’s confession, regardless of the elements of Article 12.

  • What about cases outside of the formal criminal justice system? Flora Sapio, an expert in Chinese criminal law, noted in her analysis of the new regulations that the Regulations apply only to formal criminal cases; the Regulations offer no protection to individuals in criminal-like situations, such as Re-Education Through Labor (RETL) and drug rehabilitation, both administrative cases, not criminal ones.  The new regulations offer no protection to individuals being tried in these areas of law.

The “Regulations on the Exclusion of Illegally Obtained Evidence in Criminal Cases” were drafted in order to better implement the Chinese Criminal Law’s prohibition against torture of suspects.  But ironically, the Regulations themselves are relatively vague and their strength will only be determined through their implementation.  If defense counsel does not raise the issue of an illegally-obtained confession (with CL Article 306 defense counsel has the incentive not to protest the confession as discussed in the previous post), or if the court does not give greater life to Articles 6, 7 and 12, then the Regulations will have little impact.  But given that there are some in the legal field that are working hard to provide for greater justice and rule of law in the Chinese criminal justice system, there is hope that perhaps something can happen with these Regulations.  A small hope, but hope nonetheless.

A Response to Rio Tinto – A Different Opinion from Australia

By , April 20, 2010

Australia-flagOn Monday, I posted my take on the Rio Tinto trial which elicited significant response from China law scholars.  I was lucky to have a very thoughtful response from Prof. Vivienne Bath of the University of Sydney and Director of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney.

Prof. Bath has a different perspective on the Rio Tinto trial and you can find her comments below.  She also points out two mistakes that I made in the original article.  In the original article, I state that foreign press was permitted into the bribery portion of the trial.  This is incorrect.  They were only permitted access to the verdict and sentencing portion.  A second mistake is that I state that there was live witness testimony; there was not.  There was only the presentation of written testimony; not actually live witness testimony.  I have made these corrections to the original article and my apologies to the readers.

I thank Prof. Bath for her response to my article and for giving me permission to post it to China Law & Policy to offer a different perspective.


I was interested in Elizabeth Lynch’s comments on the Stern Hu trial now that it is all over (bar the appeals).  Her post presents an interesting and different view of the trial to that often presented in the press.  Certainly some of the comments by politicians (on both sides) have been fairly unconstructive and some of the press coverage could have been better informed.

In particular, Elizabeth makes some very apposite comments on the process. It appears to be the case that Chinese authorities followed the letter of the Criminal Procedure Law, although their interpretation of the Australia-China Consular Agreement was, in my opinion, completely unjustified.  Regular visits by the consul were allowed as was access to lawyers.  Time limits were strictly observed.  Apparently a 71 page judgment was produced (which is quite unusual!) justifying the court’s conclusions, which is very welcome (or will be, if and when the judgment is made publicly available).

I do not think, however, that the fact that the Chinese authorities complied with Chinese laws should be a matter for particular congratulation.  The content of those laws is bound to be the subject of comment.  The press (and the Australian public), for example, probably took access to a lawyer for granted – they were more interested in the fact that Hu’s wife was apparently not allowed to visit her husband at all during his period of detention.

In addition,  there are still some issues relating both to the trial and to the Chinese legal system itself which are continuing matters for concern regardless of the guilt or innocence of the parties.  First, it appears that the foreign media was not admitted to any part of the trial, although several representatives of the state media may have been present.  See http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/03/22/2852611.htm;  http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/media/the-world-watches-stern-hu-case-as-media-coverage-is-gagged/story-e6frg996-1225846613332 .  The Australian press was, as you would expect, very indignant on this point.  News reports were provided by brief comments from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade representative, who was quite succinct in his comments.

Secondly, I did not see any references to witnesses testifying in person at the trial and I would be interested to see the links to reports on this.  Indeed, Du Shuanghua’s devastating evidence on the payment of RMB70 million was given in writing, with, according to reports, Wang Yong indignantly asking that Du appear in person so that he could be cross-examined (http://mulrickillion.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!41BA4803555B0DA4!5445.entry ).   The entire trial, involving 4 defendants and a variety of complex charges, took less than 3 days, which is not consistent with the presentation of detailed personal testimony and cross-examination.  The point has been made that written testimony is often presented in trials conducted under the inquisitorial system.   Article 47 of the Criminal Procedure Law, however, does provide for the testimony of witnesses to be questioned and cross-examined in the courtroom.  Although Chinese trials often take less time than this, and, it does not take away from the main point, which is that such a short time period is completely inadequate to allow defendants to conduct cross-examination of witnesses (if they are there) or to present their own cases in detail.

Thirdly, in relation to the length of the sentences, it should be noted that a sentence of 3-7 years for infringing on commercial secrets can only be handed out “if the consequences are especially serious”.  The court justified the sentences as follows: ” ‘The four have seriously damaged the interests of the Chinese steel enterprises and put those enterprises in an unfavourable place (during) the iron-ore negotiations, which led to the suspension of the negotiations in 2009,’ Judge Liu told a packed court room.  He said this behaviour caused overpayment of 1.108 billion yuan by industry players, including Shougang Steel and Liagang Steel. The interest alone on this was more than 11 million yuan.” (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/bribes-forced-china-to-overpay-for-iron-ore/story-e6frg9df-1225847190730 ). This is really quite an extraordinary conclusion for any judge to make, particularly in the confused and political atmosphere surrounding the iron ore negotiations.

Fourthly, Australia does have an obligation under its Criminal Code, which codifies its obligations under the OECD Convention, to prosecute bribery of foreign officials.  Although Australia is nowhere near as active as US authorities, Australia has just revised its law to increase the penalties significantly.  The Australian government can hardly prosecute Stern Hu, however, because he has already been convicted in China.  In relation to Rio Tinto, if the Chinese authorities thought Rio was implicated, Article 220 of the Criminal Law provides the basis for prosecution of a “unit”.  The action of the Chinese authorities in closing the trial and failing to produce any evidence publicly on the commercial secrets charge is not helpful for an Australian investigation.  In any event, it  appears that agencies in the US, the UK and Australia are looking at Rio’s behaviour – see http://www.watoday.com.au/business/just-what-is-a-chinese-commercial-secret-remains-a-secret-20100416-skmv.html .  We do not know if the Australian Federal Police have commenced or will subsequently commence an investigation under the Criminal Code.  Rio Tinto’s comments suggest doubt about whether the “commercial secrets” were in fact secret, but it has in any event issued new guidelines to its employees operating in China (http://www.riotinto.com/documents/Media-Speeches/2010AGM_transcript.pdf ).

The final question is the standard of the press coverage.  Without commenting on the press outside Australia, I do not think that the mainstream Australian press can be accused of using “bad facts” making “bad journalism”.  There was front-page coverage of the trial and considerable commentary, as one would expect, since an Australian citizen and one of Australia’s most important companies were involved, but the main Australian newspapers, The Age, The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald appeared to go to considerable trouble to ensure that their coverage was accurate.  They published reports on the judgment and details on the court findings on bribery with as much enthusiasm as they published reports on the criminal system and the process of the trial itself.  As for the Australian government, given the unease that the timing of the arrests and the lack of transparency regarding the trial caused in Australia, I think that the Australian government’s behaviour and comments were fairly restrained (unlike the Chinese foreign affairs spokesperson, whose comments were quite provocative).  Opposition politicians in Australia were less restrained in criticising the Chinese legal system and the Australian government for alleged inaction and failing to stand up for Australia’s interests, but that is the nature of opposition politicians in a democratic system.

It should be appreciated that this trial touched on a number of very sensitive points in Australia – the influx of massive amounts of proposed Chinese investment in the natural resources area, particularly by state-owned enterprises, has caused considerable public unease; there was considerable publicity about the proposed Chinalco investment in Rio Tinto, with the shareholders and BHP actively campaigning against it,  and front-page coverage of the China Iron and Steel Association’s effort to take over conduct of the annual iron ore pricing negotiations.  All of these issues were widely discussed in the Australian press, not just the business press, due to the importance of natural resources in supporting the Australian economy in the midst of the global financial crisis.  The timing of the arrests – directly after the withdrawal of the Chinalco bid and the collapse of the iron ore negotiations –  combined with the involvement of the Ministry of State Security and the original focus on “state secrets” was guaranteed to attract widespread publicity and encourage the belief that the entire criminal investigation was politically motivated.  Unfortunately, the conduct of the trial – and the fact that the prosecution started with the employees of Rio rather than the employees of the Chinese steels mills – has done very little to dispel that belief.  I do not think that this can be blamed on the press – it is, after all, their duty to report, and the case, and the circumstances surrounding it, certainly gave the press enormous amounts of material.

–Vivienne Bath, Associate Professor, University of Sydney

All expressions of opinion in this comment, and any associated errors, are entirely my own.

The Rio Tinto Trial in China – A Miscalculation about Rule of Law?

By , April 19, 2010

Originally Posted on Foreign Policy Digest

china steelDevelopments

Last summer, the billion dollar steel industry watched in rapt attention as China cracked down on one of its own.  On July 5, 2009, Chinese authorities in Shanghai detained four employees of the Australian mining company Rio Tinto, then later sentenced them to prison terms ranging from seven to fourteen years.  Many China watchers and industry insiders considered the sentencing and charges of bribery and commercial espionage to be retaliation for the recent tough iron ore pricing negotiations, and Western media were quick to portray the Rio Tinto incident as a reflection of China’s irreverence toward rule of law and its politicization of the legal system for corporate advantage.   However, in examining the Rio Tinto case, the Chinese prosecutors followed legal procedure more precisely than they do in most ordinary criminal trials in China.  While there may have been some misuse of criminal process for corporate gain, it appears that the Australian government and Rio Tinto itself may have acted as passive accomplices in its politicization.

Background

Rio Tinto is keenly aware of China’s importance in its operations.  In 2009, China’s imports accounted for $10.56 billion, or close to a quarter of Rio Tinto’s overall profits.  With China as one of the few countries still growing during the global finical crisis, it is no wonder that Rio Tinto’s 2009 Annual Report listed “strengthen [its] relationship with China” as a key strategic goal for 2010.

In China, it is neither unusual nor unlawful for suspects to be detained without being officially arrested or charged with a crime.  Article 69 of the Chinese Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) permits authorities to detain a suspect

Stern Hu

Stern Hu

without arrest for up to 30 days in certain instances—one of which is in cases with multiple suspects.  When the four employees were detained by Chinese State Security officials on July 5, 2009, Stern Hu—an Australian citizen—Wang Yong, Ge Mingqiang, and Liu Caikui appeared likely to be charged with stealing state secrets, a grave offense under the Articles 111 and 113 of the Chinese Criminal Law (“CL”) that can carry a life or, even death, sentence if convicted.  State secret trials are particularly nontransparent; the trial is completely closed, with even the defendant’s lawyer excluded.  However, upon their official arrest on August 12, the four Rio Tinto employees were not charged with stealing state secrets; instead all four were charged with the lesser crimes of stealing corporate secrets and commercial bribery, which carry prison terms of three to seven years and five years, respectively.  There is a thin line between stealing state secrets and stealing corporate secrets when the entity involved is a state-owned company, as are most Chinese steel companies.  But, given Stern Hu’s Australian nationality, it was crucial to Sino-Australian relations that China make such a distinction in this case.  On February 10, 2010, a three-judge panel in the Shanghai Number One Intermediate Court agreed to accept the case, and the four employees were officially indicted.

While in custody, the four employees received support from both Rio Tinto and the Australian government.  Sam Walsh, chief executive of Rio Tinto’s iron ore operations, remained confident in his employees’ innocence and repeatedly expressed his concern over the charges.  Australian officials who paid consular visits to Hu, as mandated by the China-Australia Agreement on Consular Relations (the “Consular Agreement”), continued to discuss the case with the press, and the Western media remained actively interested in the case, wondering how the Chinese government was going to execute what was perceived as trumped up charges against Rio Tinto employees.

Australian Consul-General Tom Connor (centre) makes a statement to the media outside the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court in Shanghai, on March 22, following the first day in the trial of four Rio Tinto employees.

Australian Consul-General Tom Connor (centre) makes a statement to the media outside the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People's Court in Shanghai, on March 22, following the first day in the trial of four Rio Tinto employees.

In a surprising turn of events, on March 22, 2010—the opening day of the long-awaited trial–all four Rio Tinto employees pled guilty to accepting bribes totaling $13 million.  In accordance with the Consular Agreement, an Australian consular official was allowed to attend the bribery portion of the trial.   Domestic press was given access to the trial, but with only guilty pleas, there was little to report.  Foreign press was excluded.* After the guilty plea, Rio Tinto and the Australian government, the only two Western entities that have seen the actual evidence that caused the four to plead guilty, stated that there was enough evidence to support the bribery charge.  But this allegedly “clear evidence” has not been made public, making it impossible to evaluate its credibility.

On the second day of the trial, the Court tried all four defendants in a closed-door trial on the charge of stealing commercial secrets.  Even Australian consular officials, who are permitted to attend all trials under the Consular Agreement, were denied entry.  After concluding the trial on March 24, the Court reached its verdict on the following Monday, March 29, 2010.  With Stern Hu’s wife in the courtroom–the first time she had seen her husband since the day he was taken away by authorities–the Court found all four defendants guilty of stealing commercial secrets.  In accordance with Chinese practice, sentences were immediately handed out: Stern Hu received a total of 10 years in prison, and Wang Yong, Ge Mingqiang and Liu Caikou received fourteen, eight and seven years, respectively.  All of the sentences were within the timeframe allowed by the Criminal Law.

Analysis

The Rio Tinto case makes clear that the Chinese criminal justice system could use improvement, particularly in regards to the public’s access to evaluate the evidence in non-closed trials.  But it is not the grave travesty the Western media portrays it to be.  In many ways, the Rio Tinto employees were given more protection of the criminal law than must ordinary Chinese defendants.  The Rio Tinto employees were all given access to defense counsel; Stern Hu met with his attorneys on ten different occasions before trial. In China, most defendants are unrepresented and the few who retain an attorney usually have no access to that attorney prior to trial.  Additionally, the Rio Tinto commercial secrets trial lasted two days, one day longer than most trials in China, with examination of evidence, including statements from witnesses.  In China, most criminal cases rely solely on a defendant’s confession with little to no other evidence.*

But the Western media has been particularly focused on the closed commercial secrets portion, with some arguing that the closed trial violates Chinese domestic law (see here and here).  Indeed, Article 152 of the CPL states that criminal trials, except for those involving state secrets or personal private matters, are open to the public.  However, the CPL is not the only instructive document.  The Supreme People’s Court (SPC), China’s highest court, issues binding interpretations to clarify the law.  Article 121 of the SPC’s “Interpretation of the CPL” maintains that in cases involving “business secrets,” the court may close the trial if a party requests it.  The Interpretation does not say that “party” is limited to either prosecutor or one of the defendants in the case; presumably any party with an interest in the secret may request the closure.  In this case, Rio Tinto, the Chinese steel companies involved, or the Chinese government, all of whom likely have reasons to keep the public out of the seedy affairs of iron ore pricing, likely requested a closed trial.

However, it is problematic that an Australian consular officer was excluded from the corporate secrets portion of the trial, and equally disturbing that the Australian Foreign Minister would neglect to discuss or criticize the Consular Agreement violations after the verdict.  The Consular Agreement is clear that an Australian consular official is permitted to attend all trials involving Australian citizens in China.  China’s claim that “judicial sovereignty” necessitated the closing of the commercial secrets portion of the trial is specious at best and leaves China open to the Western media’s assertion that the Rio Tinto case was purely political.

Yet, there is also reason to question the roles of Rio Tinto and the Australian government in the politicization of this case.  From the beginning, when the charges were changed from state secrets to commercial secrets, both the Australian government and Rio Tinto likely exerted pressure on the Chinese government, taking advantage of the political nature of the Chinese legal system which the Western media has criticized China for.

Sam Walsh, Rio Tinto's Iron Ore Chief

Sam Walsh, Rio Tinto's Iron Ore Chief

After the four employees were found guilty, Rio Tinto was quick to report that while “clear evidence” showed beyond a doubt that the four employees had accepted bribes, all bribe-taking was conducted outside of Rio Tinto.  It seems difficult to believe that a $13 million bribery scheme, presumably resulting in cheaper prices for iron ore for Chinese steel makers or more iron ore sold to a preferred Chinese steel maker, would leave not a single trace of evidence on Rio Tinto’s systems – not a single email or a price discrepancy or any evidence that more iron ore was being sold to one steel company, nothing. Also, as others have pointed out, with regard to the charge of stealing commercial secrets, one must wonder, who was the ultimate beneficiary of the theft?   Although evidence in the commercial secrets theft is not public, during sentencing the Court stated that the Rio Tinto employees obtained secret information about the China Iron and Steel Association’s “next price for upcoming iron ore negotiations.”  In other words, the limit one can charge the Chinese steel industry for iron ore.  This is information that Rio Tinto the company would want but would be less valuable to individual employees such as Stern Hu.

There are other legal tools to use to find out this information, but it appears that the Australian government has chosen not to use them.  Under Australian law, bribery of foreign officials by an Australian company and its employees is illegal and can be prosecuted in an Australian court, even if the bribery happened abroad.  Here, the Rio Tinto employees were convicted of stealing commercial secrets.  While one could steal commercial secrets by burglarizing someone’s office or hacking into their computer, it is most likely that the Rio Tinto employees obtained the secrets from someone on the inside of China’s state-owned steel industry.  It is most likely the Rio Tinto employees paid for this type of information, which is not easily attainable or free.  Such an act would be in violation of Australia’s criminal law prohibiting bribery of foreign officials and could subject Rio Tinto to large monetary penalties.  But the Australian government has made no overtures of either investigation or prosecution of other Rio Tinto employees or Rio Tinto itself.

China’s legal system is far from perfect; greater transparency could result in a more reliable legal system, less vulnerable to censure.  In this case, allowing the public to see the evidence relating to the bribery charges and giving some sort of an explanation for closing the commercial secrets portion of the trial could have been useful.  But, ultimately, the Rio Tinto case is not the poster child for China’s retreat from rule of law or for the danger of foreign companies doing business in China.  Instead, this case makes clear that the oft quoted adage by lawyers that “bad facts make bad law” is equally as apt to the press: “bad facts make bad journalism.”

__________________________________________________________________________________________

* Corrections were made to the original article to better reflect the facts (see here).  The author still stands behind the views expressed in this article.

Adam Segal Discusses U.S.-China Relations in a Cyber World

By , April 14, 2010

World leaders met this week in Washington, DC to discuss the danger of nuclear war.  But as the world becomes increasingly reliant on the internet and increasingly connected through it, another threat is beginning to loom large – cyberwar.  When noted technology giant Google is susceptible to cyber-attacks, that does not bode well for the rest of us.  How safe is the U.S. from a large-scale cyber-attack?  Today Chinese hackers attack Google’s servers, but what about tomorrow?  Will the next attack be on something more critical, like a U.S. power grid?

Dr. Adam Segal, Ira A. Lipman Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

Dr. Adam Segal, Ira A. Lipman Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations

To understand the complex issues underlying the world of hacking and cyber-espionage, and how it relates to U.S.-China relations, China Law & Policy sat down with a noted expert on both China and cyber-security, Dr. Adam Segal, the Ira A. Lipman Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.   In this exclusive interview, Dr. Segal discusses the nature of the attacks on Google, the involvement of the Chinese government in the hacking world and the danger China poses to the U.S.’ cyber-security.  But as Dr. Segal makes clear, it is not a one-sided affair; the U.S. also plays a very active role in hacking and cyber-espionage, making it difficult to challenge China when something like the Google incident arises.  Dr. Segal also explores the need for international cooperation on these issues and the role that international law can play in containing the threat.  Unfortunately, as he points out, the world community is far from reaching any sort of agreement, leaving all nations susceptible.

Click here to listen to the interview with Dr. Adam Segal (read below for transcript)

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ELCan you just give our listeners a little bit of background on the hacking which lead to Google’s announcement in January that it was looking to leave China?  How widespread and sophisticated was the attack and what was the theft that Google referenced in its press release if you know at all?

AS: Google announced that it was going to be shutting down its business in China.  And what they said drove them to that decision was a hacking incident which seems to have two main components.  The first was, as you said, a kind of attack on Google’s intellectual property, its corporate knowledge and corporate property.  And the second was attacks on the G-mail accounts of human rights dissents.  Google said it traced those attacks back to China; it didn’t implicate the Chinese government.  Others, like the New York Times have traced it back to Shanghai Jiaotong University and a computer training institute but the source of it still remains a bit of a mystery.

There is some debate about how sophisticated the attacks actually were.  They were referred to as the Aurora attacksHacker hackingGoogle has consistently said that they were extremely sophisticated but a number of other security analysts have said that in fact they were fairly basic, that much of the code used has been floating around for a long time.  What the IPR that the Chinese got or were trying to get is unclear, Google hasn’t specifically said.  Some people seem to believe that it was basically that it was the data and databases that Google collects on its own users.  So basically the kind of core knowledge that Google extracts from what Google users do, how they do it, when they do it, which would be one of the most important kind of assets that Google has.

ELIn tracing back, or Google saying that the attacks were traced back to China, why is that difficult to ascertain?  To what degree…Can you put a percentage on how accurate you can trace back an attack?

AS:  The problem is that you can continually trace back the attacks to certain computers or to certain networks or IP addresses, but often once you get there, some more poking around leads you to another computer behind that.  And the other thing is the hackers themselves can spoof the address that they are using.  I think there becomes a fairly high degree of certainty about where the attack might have come within a national network.  In some cases, even down to specific IP addresses.  But even then you don’t know who the hacker was that was involved and you don’t know the hackers relationship to any state organization or anybody else for that matter.

ELAnd in terms of China specifically, the cyber-hacking, how prevalent is cyber-hacking from China compared to other countries like Russia or even the United States?  Is China being singled out here?

AS:  I think China is being singled out in a sense.  I mean given that it was a high profile attack on a company like Google, but also given the state of U.S.-China relations right now, that it fed into a worsening tenor in the bilateral relationship.  But in raw numbers, for criminal activity, clearly Russia is very high up there and we saw the political uses of cyber-hacking in the case of the Georgian war and Estonia and some other high profile political cases.  And there is a large amount of hacking that comes from the United States and that’s actually one of the big complaints on the Chinese side – is that the Chinese are being scapegoated and they themselves are often victims of attacks and many of those attacks come from servers in the United States.  When you look at the number of bad ISP – Internet Service Providers – that are hosting botnets and other kind of zombies that are attacking, there are a large number of them that are in the United States.  So, China is also a victim.

ELJust focusing on just China and the hacking there, can you explain maybe a little bit more what the hacker community is like in China.  Is it an organized community?  And what motivates the hackers – do they do this just for fun or are they ever “hired” for their skills?  And also how do they determine targets – how was Google determined?  Was that just something for fun or for profit?

hacked-computer-june08AS:  I think the community itself is incredibly hard to characterize.  It’s very diverse, it’s, I think, very decentralized.  The community represents kind of the similar community that there is in the United States and Russia.  There are what they called script-kiddies – people, teenagers who are doing it for fun or to show off or to see what they can actually accomplish.  There are criminals – people that are just hacking for financial gains.  There are what are called patriotic hackers – people that hack websites out of a kind of nationalistic feeling.  Then there are hackers that are probably employed by the Chinese government, probably by the military and the security agencies that are used to attack specific targets for political reasons.  And then there are hackers in the military that are thinking about how cyber would be used in an actual military conflict.

Of course, the important question is the relationship about all of these people and I don’t think we really have a very good idea.  Clearly, there is some blurring of boundaries of patriotic hackers and criminal hackers.  The system itself seems to be in many ways a kind of mirror of the system that has made China such a power in the global manufacturing which is that there are kind of contracts and subcontracts and subcontracts of what people do.  Somebody might be in charge of writing a very low-level code and that code is then packaged up and used by people above them, who may then might contract for a specific project or may sell it on the open market.  Certain things are just put out there on hacker websites and you can just download them and buy them just for your own thing.

Why Google was targeted.  If, as Google says that they were part of an attack that seems to have included at least 30 other technology companies, there does seem to be a push from Chinese intelligence community, from its espionage community, to try and get advanced technology from foreign companies.  So we have seen for at least five years, if not longer, pretty concentrated, focused attacks on defense contractors and other U.S. technology providers.  And then, once you add the attack on the dissidents as well, then that also seems to be one of the interests of the attacks.  But who was, who within the Chinese government organized it or put it in a larger strategy, I think that we really have no idea. 

EL:  I guess that raises kind of the other issue that has been floating around there with the Google incident and cyber-hacking in general, is to what degree is the Chinese government involved in some of these incidences?  I know Northrop Grumman issued a report last year to the US-China Economic and Security Commission analyzing the link between, hacking for military purposes, but this general hacking of corporations, could it be that the Chinese government is behind it?  And also, when you make this distinction of political hackers, would that be motivated by the Chinese government or is it just a by-product of the nationalism that seems very active in China right now?

AS:  I don’t think we know.  I think the most we can say is on the espionage side, it just matches, or it pushes in the OLYMPICS/SECURITY-PLAsame direction of a general concern we know that China has about technological dependence and wanting to gain as much technology from the West as possible.  That strategy I think has been in place for fifteen, twenty years.  That includes perfectly harmless, normal technology policy about how China is going to increase its own technological capabilities, goes from that to espionage and theft.  You would expect that that would include the normal type of espionage or bribing, stealing, theft of secrets from corporations, to now including cyber-espionage and attacks and those things.  So I would say that the government has a role in the sense that it has set this general direction of the policy and these concerns about technology and China’s desire for it.

Clearly the intelligence agencies probably have a sense of specific technology that they are concerned about and want to know more about.  So the hacking of the F-35 and the F-22 and those kind of things, those are clearly probably driven by government agencies who are looking at a potential conflict with the United States and want to know what those capabilities are.

But once you get to the level of Google – is there a government official that says, well if we hack Google, then we can give that information to Baidu [the popular Chinese search engine] and we can have a competitor, I don’t think we can know.  That clearly is a possibility but at this point, it may just be criminal.  It may be a criminal that turns around and says to Baidu – we can sell this to you.

On the dissident side, I think it is probably very similar also.  I think in some cases the security agencies may have….are targeting specific individuals who are using those capabilities.  In other cases criminal hackers go after people and then turn around and say to the intelligence agencies – we’ve got this person so either do something for us or pay us for the information.

ELIn the press it has often been the Chinese government attached to this cyber-hacking, but does the Chinese government ever see this cyber-hacking as a threat to its own rule either from domestic hackers or from hackers in the U.S.?  Are the government agencies ever a victim of the cyber-hacking and cyber-espionage either domestically or from abroad?

national-security-agency-sealAS: Yeah, I would think all of the time. I think, from the international perspective the Chinese basically assume that the United States is engaged in cyber-espionage all of the time.  And that given our capabilities, in particular the capabilities that exist in the NSA – the National Security Agency – that they are….we are probably getting more from them then they are getting from us, in the Chinese perspective, and that we are constantly hacking them.  So they point to that as well as to the discussions in the United States about creating a cyber-command in the military and discussions about controlling the commons and all these other things as kind of a representation of American hypocrisy.  We are talking about militarizing cyber-space while they are being hacked.  So I think yes, that’s clearly and issue from outside of China.

On the domestic front I think yes, that Chinese government agencies and corporations are being hacked.  There’s been a number of prominent cases of Chinese hackers spreading malware to try and steal identity numbers and virtual money from these multiple player games.  Very prominent hackers have been arrested and eventually imprisoned.  So I think that is part of the threat.

The other threat is of course is that, dealing with these patriotic hackers is a double-edged sword for the Chinese government.  There is a fear that while they are focusing externally, U.S. corporations or U.S. government websites, in the case of the Olympics on French websites and things like that.  But if their ire is turned inward then those people could hack Chinese government websites.   I think the Chinese government is very concerned and you can see that in discussions about their own cyber-security but also trying to develop new types of software.  The problem is that the Chinese is hyper-reliant in Microsoft, something like 90% of Chinese government offices use Windows.  A lot of that is pirated which means that it is not updated regularly for security patches.  So there is a lot of vulnerability.

EL:  You make this distinction between patriotic hacking, criminal hacking, commercial hacking, but under Chinese law itself, is hacking in general illegal?

AS:  It is.  There are laws on the books against hacking, criminal hacking, privacy laws.  Those were strengthened in

Cute & Cuddly until he infests your computer

Cute & Cuddly until he infests your computer

December 2008 and then again in February of this year I think.  The Chinese announced that they were going again to try to strengthen anti-hacking laws, in particular the kind of punishment for hackers.  Also on-line privacy issues and some tort issues about privacy and defamation.  Like I said, there are prominent cases of hackers who have been arrested and fined.  This guy who wrote this malware called Panda malware I think it was, and was sentenced to I think 3 years and fined $18,000.  So there are domestic laws against it.

ELAnd do you think the domestic laws are sufficient in dealing with this?  And also how do Chinese laws compare to laws in the United States against hacking?

AS:  I think they’re comparable.  I think the issue is with all laws in China has to do with implementation.  Clearly the issue for the United States or other countries, investigating hacking requires more cooperation from the Chinese about, who’s behind the attacks and actually following up on prosecution.  But I think within China, I suspect the issue is not the law per se but expertise….all the things we have in the United States about how do you prosecute cyber-crimes – expertise at the local level, resources, enough people staffing these kinds of issues.  From the Chinese perspective also, the U.S. hasn’t been all that helpful either.  I have heard a number of cases where the Chinese have turned around to the FBI and said –we think this hacking is coming from the United States.  And the United States has not been all that responsive from what I’ve heard.

EL: I guess cyber-hacking, it’s definitely a crime more without borders.  So how do you see international law or treaties coming into play here to battle the threat of cyber-espionage?

AS:  I don’t think there’s much to be done about espionage.  There’s no international treaties against espionage.  We engage in it, they engage in it, our allies engage in it.  I think that is likely to happen.  I think espionage we have to figure out how we are going to defend ourselves against.  The problem with espionage of course though is that it is hard to differentiate espionage from what could become vandalism or an attack.  So I think what we want to kind of agree on with the Chinese is that we know espionage is going to go on, but things like probing electricity grids, that should not be occurring or other kind of critical infrastructure.  We should be working on how do we declare those off limits.

On the criminal front there is a…the Council on Europe has this convention on cyber-crime.  I can’t remember how treatymany countries have signed it now, it’s about I think 20 or 40, I can’t remember exactly.  But part of the problem is that most of the major players haven’t signed it; the U.S. has signed it, Japan has signed it but Russia hasn’t signed it.  Which goes a long way in defining consistent standards across national borders about what a cyber-crime is, how do you punish hacking, create a deterrent.  The problem with Russia, China things that we see as freedom of speech they see as a cyber-crime so that has been a problem in the case of Russia.  But the Chinese seem to be at least studying the Council on Europe convention which often kind of the first sign that the Chinese are moving toward international standards.  So I think that is a way to move forward.  And within Asia itself, ASEAN has had a couple of discussion about creating a similar kind of convention on cyber-crime in the region.

And then the other issue is this international convention on arms control, on cyber-war.  The United States has entered into discussions with the Russians about it.  That I think is very difficult and I think unlikely to be very useful because in the kind of traditional terms of arms control verification, inspection, those are all impossible with cyber-weapons.  So, that I think is useful just for talking for talking’s sake but will not result in any kind of concrete agreements.

EL: Just to follow-up on the convention on cyber-crime, you said that one of the problems is definition of terms.  Is that the only thing that would hold back a country like China or Russia from signing on to this kind of convention?  Or are there other factors?

AS: I think that’s a big one but I do think also that right now at least China and Russia find it politically and strategically useful to kind of have this arms-length relationship with hackers.  As we talked about earlier, this ties the government’s willingness to directly use or indirectly use hackers for their own political purposes makes it….right now that’s a reason for them not to crackdown too hard on criminal hacking.  So that is I think another reason why it has been hard to create a common ground.

ELDo you think that there is any space for having maybe a bi-lateral agreement between U.S. and China or a tri-lateral agreement between U.S., China and Russia about issues of cyber-espionage like not probing electricity grids or things like that?  Or do you think it would have to be global?

AS:  Well I think any convention would have to be global.  But I think there is a benefit for having these bi-lateral discussions only if because this area is newly emerging and policymakers I don’t think are particularly cognizant of all the risks and problems involved in any of these issues.  So just having a discussion with the Russians and the Chinese and others about what the potential rules of the road might I think are probably pretty useful.

EL: Absent any kind of global agreement, how best should the U.S. government and U.S. corporations deal with this issue of their own?  How can they better prevent it from happening?  Or can they?

Howard Schmidt - Cyber Czar

Howard Schmidt - Cyber Czar

AS: That’s what we are struggling with now.  The United States finally has the cyber-czar in place, Harry Schmidt.  I think one of the big things that is still occurring in the United States is kind of a debate about what the best metaphor for this is, how do you think about this cyber-issue.  You have those like, the op-ed in the Washington Post several weeks ago by the former head of NSA, McConnell, about basically cyber-war and we’re losing it and his response was very much a militarization of cyber-space.  In fact he calls for something like the re-engineering of the internet so we can basically see where any attack is coming from.

And then you have Schmidt at a conference a couple of weeks ago saying – I don’t believe in cyber-war, I don’t think cyber-war is the right metaphor.  And you have those people talking about resilience and more of a public health model for how you respond to these things – you have to defend, you have to respond, you have to quarantine.

So I think we have this broad outline, we have this debate to settle in the States.  But the way we are moving is probably closer to the public health, well actually probably both tracks at the same time.  From the defense side I think you are beginning to see more traction on private-public cooperation, about definitions of standards – what does secure actually mean and how should it be implemented, more spending on R&D for cyber-security, more training of people and that’s a major issue is about getting people trained, more public awareness.  These are all domestic issues.

EL: And just a final question.  Since President Hu Jintao is in the United States, in Washington today, do you think in his side talks with President Obama, the issue of cyber-hacking and cyber-espionage will be coming up?  How important do you think the Administration views this issues especially in light of the fact that Secretary of State Clinton has openly talked about it?

AS:  I suspect it wasn’t brought up in these meetings if only because over the last two and a half weeks it has been a clear effort on both sides to try to get the relationship back on track.  Clearly the Administration’s major strategic concern right now is Iran and then with the currency being the second concern.  So those are the two issues, from what I’ve heard, were discussed in the meeting.  I suspect there were no reasons to bring up the cyber-issues because there are no solutions or discussion that is helpful to both sides at this point.  So other than just poking them in the eye with it, I don’t see why they would bring it up.  So I suspect it was not discussed.

EL: Thank you very much.  This was very interesting and I appreciate your time.

AS:  Thank you.

Upcoming Event in DC: China, Law & Jerry Cohen!

By , February 16, 2010

February 19, 2010 from 1:30 pm – 6 pm; George Washington School of Law

Prof. Jerome A. Cohen

Prof. Jerome A. Cohen

Free & Open to the Public
Click here for the event’s flier

The name Jerome A. Cohen is synonymous with the study of Chinese law in the U.S.  Why?  Because the man basically created the field.  Prof. Cohen started studying Chinese law in 1960, while mainland China was in the throes of the Cultural Revolution and no foreigners were allowed in.  Instead of giving up, Prof. Cohen went to Hong Kong and interviewed refugees as they fled the Mainland.  Through his interviews, he was able to gather information on the criminal law under the Communists.  To this day, “The Criminal Process of the People’s Republic of China: 1949-1963” is the only holistic examination of the Chinese criminal law in early Chinese communist history.

In returning to the U.S. and joining the faculty of Harvard Law School, Prof. Cohen founded the first East Asian legal studies program, inviting many Chinese students who would later become important legal reformers including the current President of Taiwan, the former Vice President of Taiwan, the Chief Justice of Taiwan’s highest court, and former dean of Tsinghua University Law School.  After China opened in 1979, Prof. Cohen joined Coudert Brothers and opened the first foreign law office in Beijing.

But Prof. Cohen’s career is more than just writing books and opening offices.  As a pioneer in the field, Prof. Cohen has taught the second, third, and now fourth generation of Chinese legal scholars and has made the field what it is today.  And this year, Prof. Cohen turns…..well, he turns an age where it is respectable to host a conference in his honor so the world can celebrate his achievements.

This Friday, George Washington School of Law and Georgetown Law present a conference in Prof. Cohen’s honor.  Discussing four fields of law that are undergoing significant change in China, the conference will feature powerhouses in the field, many of which are former students and colleagues of Prof. Cohen’s.  Below is the schedule of events.  This event is free and open to the public.  RSVPs are not required but would be appreciated.  Please email jacfestrsvp@gmail.com

****Prof. Cohen will be in attendance*****

Schedule:

Panel 1 – Google & Freedom of Online Information – 1:45 pm
Sharon Hom, Executive Director, Human Rights in China
Lawrence Liu, Senior Counsel, Congressional Executive Commission on China
Amy Porges, International Attorney, Law Offices of Amelia Porges PLLC
Susan Weld, Adjunct Prof. of Law, Georgetown Law

Panel 2 – Business Law – 2:45 pm
Donald Clarke, Prof. of Law, George Washington School of Law
James Feinerman, Prof. of Law, Georgetown Law
Nicholas C. Howson, Assistant Prof. of Law, University of Michigan Law School

Panel 3 – Human Rights, Civil Society & Criminal Law – 4:00 pm
Xiaorong Li, Research Scholar, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland
Eva Pils, Associate Prof., Faculty of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Karla Simon, Prof. of Law, Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America
Scot Tanner, China Security Analyst, The CNA Corporation

Panel 4 – International Law – 5:00 pm
Julia Qin, Associate Prof. of Law, Wayne State University Law School
Michael Schlesinger, Attorney, International Intellectual Property Alliance
Timothy Stratford, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for China Affairs, USTR
Alex Wang, Senior Attorney & Dir., China Environmental Law Project, NRDC

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