Posts tagged: Jerome Cohen

Chen Guangcheng and the Commandeering of Our China Human Rights Policy

By , June 20, 2013

Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng

Love is a battlefield and so evidently is our China human rights policy.  At least that is what the recent developments with blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng demonstrate.  Chen made international headlines last April when he bravely escaped his illegal house arrest, fled to Beijing and sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy.

On May 19, 2012, after the U.S. brokered a deal, Chen and his family arrived at Newark International Airport where Chen was to start a fellowship at NYU Law School’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute.

Fast forward a year and on Sunday, Chen was again in the news, this time issuing a press release stating that NYU had forced him to leave, alleging that NYU’s actions were a result of the Chinese Communist Party’s pressure on the University.  NYU has denied Chen’s allegations.

Chen’s story is more than just a page six affair of he-said-she-said.  Instead it reflects the ability one group to exert an undue influence on the China human rights agenda.

The Commandeering of the U.S.’ Human Rights Policy in China

In very simplistic terms, the politics behind our China human rights policy used to be easy – the left supported human rights in China above all else.  The right was more about business ties to China before human rights (or as a way to achieving human rights).

But the rise of the religious right, especially the pro-lifers, within the Republican Party has changed that dynamic.  Nothing demonstrates that more clearly than the changing politics behind the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC).

In 2000, after China’s WTO entry, Congress created the CECC to monitor China’s human rights and rule of law development.  It quickly became Capitol Hill’s bipartisan think tank on China issues, publishing a detailed annual report on China’s human rights and rule of law record and some of the U.S.’ best young China hands passed through the CECC.

But over the past six years, the CECC has become dominated by one voice, that of Rep. Chris Smith, a pro-life Republican who became a member of the Commission in 2007, its chairman in 2011 and its current co-chair.  Since his membership, the CECC has become increasing politicized.

I first felt this when undergoing an interview for a position covering the CECC’s criminal law portfolio back in 2009.  I had already cleared interviews with CECC staff, and a political vetting by one of

Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey

Chris Smith’s staffers was the final hurdle. It was unclear why this staffer had been chosen as he neither spoke Chinese nor demonstrated any special knowledge of China.  He asked only limited questions about my work at NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute (the same organization where Chen would land years later) or about my knowledge of Chinese criminal law which I had focused on during my two years at NYU.  Instead he asked about my views of Obama’s China policy vis-a-vis Bush’s (I believe they were pretty much the same); why I wrote for the Huffington Post (because they are willing to publish me); what editorial control did the Huffington Post have over my work (none); and finally, what did I think about China’s one-child policy.  And that is where much of the interviewed remained – around China’s one-child policy.

I told the staffer that forced abortions are wrong and illegal under Chinese law.  The staffer probed deeper than just forced abortions, inquiring what I thought about the one-child policy in the abstract and whether the policy alone, regardless of the way it was implemented, was a human rights violation.  Of the human rights violations in China, the one-child policy is low on my list, and I said as much.  But the questions continued, and at some point I found myself “admitting” that I was fine with contraception.   Once those words left my mouth, somehow I knew I did not get the job.

The phone interview ended with the staffer asking about one of my blog posts where I tried to explain why the Chinese Communist Party should not be viewed as a monolith.  The line of questioning quickly turned into what felt like a McCarthy-era hearing with the staffer accusing me about not caring about human rights.

After the interview, I was rejected for the job.  I was told that Chris Smith’s office stated that my rejection was because my blog had typos (which is true).  But the line of questioning I underwent suggests another reason to me.  That interview was the first glimpse of what I believe is the pro-life contingent’s influence on our policy toward China’s human rights.

How Does Chen Guangcheng Play Into Chris Smith’s China Human Rights Policy?

It didn’t surprise me last year when it was Rep. Chris Smith who orchestrated Chen Guangcheng’s dramatic phone call from Beijing into the CECC hearing where Chen begged to be allowed into the US, creating a second international crisis that the U.S. had to negotiate.  It was even less surprising that Chen’s translator on that phone call was Bob Fu, president of the Texas-based evangelical human rights group, ChinaAid.  Fu himself has testified a number of times before the CECC, and since Chen’s Sunday night press release Fu has made the rounds with the press, alleging that Chen was being forced out of NYU because of Chinese pressure.  Expectedly, Rep. Smith has threatened to convene a hearing hauling in NYU officials to testify under oath and prove that they were not pressured by the Chinese government.

Rep. Chris Smith with Bob Fu of ChinaAid, on the phone with Chen Guangcheng

To pro-life advocates like Rep. Smith, Chen is an important figure.  Chen, a self-taught lawyer, began his career by fighting for the rights of those with disabilities.  Soon, Chen heard of other injustices in his village, especially forced abortions.  Although China maintains a one-child policy, forced abortions and sterilizations are illegal under Chinese law.  An investigation by Chen and lawyers from Beijing uncovered that forced abortions and sterilizations were common, especially in rural areas.  By the summer of 2005, Chen filed multiple lawsuits in his village Linyi on behalf of many of the victims.

It was those forced abortion cases that caused Chen to become a martyr, being arrested and thrown in jail on trumped-up charges.  Even after his official release, the Linyi authorities illegally kept him under house arrest.  But it was these forced abortion cases that also brought him to the attention of the pro-lifers in the United States.  Although Chen has stated that he is against forced abortions and less against abortions themselves (see NPR interview at 9:51), his lawsuits represent an important stepping stone for pro-lifers –  ridding China of the one-child policy.  And there is always hope that he can be converted to a pro-life stance.

Chen Guangcheng – Only A Pawn in Their Game?

I don’t believe that NYU succumbed to Chinese political pressure.  Mattie J. Bekink, Chen Guangcheng’s special adviser while at NYU, has issued a convincing press release detailing the efforts that NYU went to for Chen and his family and that she was the one who informed him early on in his tenure is that he was on a one-year fellowship.

But more importantly, I question how much the Chinese government actually cares about Chen’s existence in the United States.  Chen was a public relations disaster for the Chinese government while he was in China – causing protests domestically and internationally and even having Christian Bale attempt to visit.  Yes, the Chinese government protested the U.S. government’s involvement in the Chen affair, but ultimately they let him go and likely because they wanted to.  Activists lose their impact once they leave China.

Chen offers no evidence as to this alleged pressure.  Although he ties all of this to NYU’s desire to expand its Shanghai campus, that doesn’t seem to make sense.  NYU accepted Chen in May 2012.  That didn’t change its plans for the Shanghai campus.  The campus is still set to open in fall 2013.

But whether Chen is a pawn in a much bigger game is merely speculation.  And maybe Chen isn’t even a pawn; maybe he has taken sides and that he has chosen the pro-life camp.  News reports have stated that Chen is currently negotiating fellowships with two organizations – the Leitner Center at Fordham Law School focused on international human rights and the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative, pro-life think tank, in Princeton, New Jersey.  But it wouldn’t surprise me if after Sunday’s press release and accusations if Fordham withdraws from negotiations; who would want that headache, ending up in the press like NYU.  So in the end, Chen may only be left  with one choice – Witherspoon.  Which makes one wonder why Chen didn’t wait until he signed the contract with whichever organization he chose and then lambast NYU.  There was no particular reason to do it now.  Unless of course Chen – or the people surrounding him – didn’t want a choice.

Ramifications of the Pro-Life’s Influence on China’s Human Rights Policy

Soon after my interview with Rep. Chris Smith’s office, I asked a friend who worked on Capitol Hill how a Congressional commission could be so influenced by one voice.  No one cares about China he told me, they care about the Middle East.

I don’t know if that is exactly true but certainly what happened with the CECC shows that others on Capitol Hill need to start paying attention.  Our relationship with China is too important to allow the human rights agenda to be so unduly influenced by one contingent.  The one-child policy and abortions can and should be a part of our human rights agenda, but it should not be the exclusive focus.  Or if it is, that consensus should be reached in a more democratic process not just by default because no one paid attention.

The CECC has long been an important resource for scholars, journalists and everyday citizens who want to learn more about China.  No other organization publishes as well documented an analysis of China’s human rights and rule of law developments as the CECC does in its annual report.  But if the organization becomes politicized, that annual report will begin to lose its legitimacy.  Its work is too important to allow that to happen.

In the present Congress, Rep. Smith is CECC’s co-chair, meaning that he will wield less influence than he did as chairman.  But he is still on the Commission and he also currently chairs the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Under his tenure, many of the hearings on China focus on these narrow issues with some of the same witnesses testifying.

But more than anything, what is happening with Chen Guangcheng is a sad state of affairs – it appears that he is being used by pro-life advocates in an attempt to commandeer the U.S.’ human rights policy in China.  To the extent that Chen is not a pawn, well, it didn’t have to end this way.  What’s unfortunate is that Chen’s behavior sets the tone for other activists trying to escape China, fearing for their life.  Will the United States government be willing to take that risk again, especially if a Democrat is still in the Executive Office?  Likely “the Dissident Wears Prada” is not a movie they want to see replayed.

What is Up with Chen Guangcheng?

Chen Guangcheng, entering a Beijing Hospital with US Ambassaor Gary Locke and State Dep't Legal Advisor Harold Koh

More often than not, I am my friends’ go-to China person; something in the news pops up with China, I get the questions.  So I wasn’t surprised on Saturday when over some carrot cake at the Chelsea Market a friend of mine had questions about Chen Guangcheng: if he cared so much about human rights in China, why would he leave?  What is up with the Chinese government, keeping a blind man trapped in his own home?  How did things get so messy between the U.S. government and Chen?

It’s been almost a month since Chen fled the home that illegally became his prison. So what exactly is up with Chen’s escape and to answer some questions – what does it all mean?

Chen’s Escape Has Propelled Human Rights to the Top of the US-China Agenda

My friend’s question on Saturday caught me off guard – does Chen really care about human rights in China if he fled to the protection of the U.S. Embassy, ostensibly to seek asylum and leave China.

To ask a man with a wife and two children to be a martyr for his cause is asking too much.  As this blog has recounted previously, since Chen’s release from prison (oddly convicted of a traffic disturbance) did not result in freedom.  Instead, for the past year and a half, Chen and his family have been subjected to illegal house arrest and at times, physical torture by his captures.

It is true that by departing China, Chen’s ability to change China’s current system will be much reduced if not extinguished.  But his heroic flight has perhaps done more to highlight the Chinese government’s recent illegal oppression of dissent than anything else.  Over the past year and a half, this blog has increasingly written about the Chinese government’s crackdown on China’s nascent rights defending (weiquan) lawyers. Aside from people already interested in the issues, these posts – and the acts of repression which they have focused on – have received little attention.

Chen’s escape and his subsequent stay at the U.S. Embassy  altered this focus. With Hillary Clinton arriving for the Strategic and Economic

Inspiring Architecture? The US Embassy in Beijing

Dialogue (S&ED), the focus of U.S.-China relations shifted to human rights.  For one week, as the world watched, the U.S. and China’s relationship was thrown back to a 1980s-Cold War paradigm, when ideology played a more governing role.  For one week, the Western media’s attention finally focused on the repression of rights defending lawyers, and the lip service the Chinese government gives “rule of law” when it comes to civil rights and civil liberties.

It is amazing that a single man’s act, that one blind man’s heroic act, can still change the dialogue in U.S.-China relations.  It is a hopeful reminder that in this globalized world, individuals still matter; that one man’s quest for freedom is still “news.”  And don’t think Chen’s act was not a heroic one.  Not only was a blind man able to find his way to Beijing, but imagine if he wasn’t; imagine if he was caught.  Likely his fate would match that of Gao Zhisheng, a rights defending lawyer who, while in government custody, remains missing.

The U.S. Government’s Actions Supported Human Rights

Some have criticized the U.S. government – or more aptly, the Obama Administration – for its dealings with the Chinese government over Chen.  Initially, the U.S. Embassy worked out a deal with the Chinese government whereby Chen would stay in China, study law at a university in a coastal city away from the thugs of his hometown, and be left alone with his family.  This was what Chen initially wanted.

But once he left the safety of the embassy for a Beijing hospital, Chen began to reconsider his options.  As Prof. Jerome A. Cohen recounted to CNN, the promised U.S. Embassy official was unable to stay with Chen at the hospital and once he began speaking other rights defending lawyers – friends he hadn’t been able to speak to for a year – he began to more clearly understand the increased oppression of rights defending lawyers in China.  Chen was scared; Chen realized that without full information, he misjudged the situation.  That’s when he vocally requested that he be able to leave China for the United States.

Were some in the U.S. Embassy a touch too naive to rely on the Chinese government’s promises?  Most likely.  But being naive is not the same as turning one’s back to human rights.  It was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to allow Chen into the U.S. Embassy in the first place.  Chinese citizens cannot just willy-nilly enter the U.S. Embassy; even American citizens are allowed limited access to their embassy (which resembles a high-security prison).  As the N.Y. Times has recounted, embassy officials were notified of Chen’s flight to Beijing and on April 25, Secretary Clinton gave the authorization to sneak Chen into the embassy compound.  Secretary Clinton knew full well that by providing that approval, a throw-down with the Chinese government on the issue of human rights was certain and the ultimate outcome unclear. It is unfortunate – although not all together shocking given the current acrimonious status of politics – that Washington D.C. cannot view this moment as a proud one for America and its ideals; that the web of support that both parties have built for a human rights network in China over the years enabled Chen to come to our door.   Instead, it appears that what could otherwise be a proud moment for Americans, is becoming a political tug-of-war.

Who is Driving the Bus? The Chinese Central Government’s Lack of Control

Beep Beep! Who drives this bus??

What is perhaps the most shocking of all from this whole situation is the Chinese central government’s lack of control of local governments. Chen’s persecution has largely been conducted by the local government in his hometown, with local government officials still seething after his attempt to bring a lawsuit against them for forced abortions.  But even when Chen fled to Beijing, his safety could not be guaranteed, hence his changed desire to leave for the United States.  Many of his relatives left in their villages are being persecuted by local officials.  It makes one wonder – who really drives the bus in China?

Imagine a United States where Governor George Wallace could ignore federal law, have his way and continue segregation in his home state of Alabama.  Likely you can’t.  It’s unfathomable to think that a national government is unable to enforce its own laws, and in the case of China, that a supposed authoritarian dictatorship cannot control lower level party members.

Chen’s case reflects a center weaker than anyone previously thought.  And that is what is most frightening and should give people pause.  Does China really have the power to become a rising superpower or will it revert to its warlord past, where each city is governed by its own power broker and the central government remains impotent?

While China’s weakness appears to manifest itself often in human rights issues, it should not be just a concern for human rights advocates.  Anyone working in or with China – business people, government officials – should be troubled.  A weak center, especially as China undergoes an important leadership transition this year, does not bode well for China.

Prof. Jerome Cohen – The Fixer

On a final note, I want to focus on Prof. Jerome Cohen and his role in all of this.  As a research fellow for two years, I had the privilege of working

Prof. Jerome A. Cohen

with Prof. Cohen at NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute.  In that time, I got to know a kind, brilliant man who never ceased to amaze me.  It was Prof. Cohen who first identified the ingenuity and necessity of Chen’s unschooled, “barefoot lawyer” approach in 2003 and deservedly catapulted him to the world stage.

While my two years with Prof. Cohen were filled with inspiring moments, I have never been more proud of him than I was with his handling of the Chen Guangcheng situation.  While this is all purely based on hearsay, it appears that it was Prof.  Cohen who got the U.S. and China out of what was becoming a crisis situation.  Prof. Cohen’s lifetime of experience with China, including high-level delegations soon after Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, allowed him to realize that all that was needed was a practical solution where everyone could save face: a scholarship for Chen to study law at NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute and invitation for his wife and children to join him.

Now we wait and see.  The United States has approved Chen’s visa application and just yesterday he applied for his Chinese passport.  Although the Chinese government could renege on the deal, that looks increasingly less likely and ultimately not in their best interest.  It’s never a satisfying moment when one of your citizens essentially seeks protection from a foreign government for human rights abuses, but on some level, the Chinese government is likely happy that Chen, who has long been a rabble rouser and a cause célèbre for other Chinese rights defenders and foreign friends, is leaving the country.  Unfortunately for Chen and his family, he will likely never be able to return to his home country.

Ai Weiwei Released on Bail

By , June 22, 2011

Ai Weiwei

For the past three months, the world has awaited news on internationally-known artist Ai Weiwei’s unlawful detention by Chinese authorities.  Originally taken into custody on April 3, 2011, Ai’s detention has remained shrouded in rumors as the rest of the world vocally called for his release.

Although not formally arrested, on May 21, 2011, the state-run New China News Agency reported that Ai was being investigated for evading “huge amounts” of taxes through his corporation, Beijing Fake Cultural Development, Ltd.  However, no official government statement confirmed this report and no arrest warrant was issued.

Finally, this morning, Xinhua News Agency, another state-run news outlet, announced that Ai was released on bail “because of his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from.”

Unlike in the United States, bail –or in Chinese qubao huoshen (取保候审) is not freely given in China.  As Prof. Jerome Cohen points out, the term bail is perhaps a misnomer in translating the Chinese since in China “bail” can be provided at any stage in the “investigation,” even before a formal arrest or an indictment as was the situation in Ai’s case (Siweiluozi also has a good piece on the inadequacies of translating qubao huoshen as bail).

If bail is limited in China, what are the circumstances in which it is given?  Prof. Cohen rightly points out that the consideration is largely political and has little to do with rule of law – it’s a good way for the Chinese government to get out of a difficult situation when international criticism mounts (Evan Osnos also has an interesting take on the impact of international pressure on Ai’s release).  But was Xinhua’s reason for bail – good attitude and a chronic disease – a legal basis for the rare reward of bail?

As a matter of fact, there is a basis in law.  Article 60 of China’s Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) makes clear bail may be granted in those cases where the “criminal suspect or accused…should be arrested but are suffering from a serious illness….”  Ai suffers from diabetes and during his ordeal, Ai’s family repeatedly expressed his concerns about his health to the international press.  So while the Chinese government likely made a political choice to release Ai, there is in fact a veneer of legality.  But the claim of “good attitude” for bail is found nowhere in the CPL.

But what is perhaps a more interesting question, is the validity of the alleged charges of tax evasion.  Ai’s company, Beijing Fake Cultural Development, Ltd., is a limited company – how is Ai personally on the hook for the company’s tax evasion?  Presumably there would be limited liability, so how are the authorities able to attribute the company’s evasion to Ai?   On that issue, tune in later, same bat-time, same bat-channel.

Jerome Cohen on the Importance of Ted Kennedy in US-China Relations

Ted Kennedy and his family visit China in December 1977

Timing is everything and Prof. Jerome Cohen seems to have a particular knack for it. As various book reviews of Henry Kissinger’s On China revisit the role Kissinger and Nixon played in opening China, Prof. Cohen offers a different – and too often ignored – narrative of Nixon’s 1972 visit: the importance of the late Senator Ted Kennedy in pushing the U.S. into a policy of detente with China and eventual normalization of relations between the two countries.

For Cohen, who first began advising Sen. Ted Kennedy on China issues in 1966, it was neither Nixon nor Kissinger who had the courage to first push the country toward normalizing relations with China. Instead, it was Sen. Kennedy. By 1969, Kennedy had formulated a sound and forceful China policy, urging the U.S. government to seek recognition of the mainland while maintaining its commitment to protecting Taiwan. It was his speech at the inaugural meeting of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations in March 1969 that forced President Nixon to re-evaluate his own position on China. Fearful that Kennedy might win the 1972 presidential election on his increasingly popular China stance, Nixon quickly urged his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, to get him to China. Kissinger’s success in planning Nixon’s February 1972 trip to China is one of the factors that caused Nixon to win the election that fall.

Cohen’s eight-page essay on his experience of advising Ted Kennedy and working with him on China offers a startling perspective on the late Senator. Best known for his domestic policy and legislation, Kennedy’s contribution to foreign policy, particularly as it pertains to China, is not often discussed. Cohen points out that even Kennedy himself failed to recognize his importance to opening China – in his own memoir, Kennedy spends less than a page discussing his involvement with China in the late 60s and early 70s.

The Late Senator Ted Kennedy

Cohen ends his essay with a more familiar Kennedy – one who understood the art of diplomacy and that politics, no matter the culture, is an important factor.  As the Carter Administration continuous hit road block after road block in dealing with China, it was Kennedy’s December 1977 trip to Beijing that altered the course and allowed the two countries to normalize relations. A year later, Carter basically adopted the Kennedy plan of recognizing the mainland as the “one China” but maintaining the policy of defense of Taiwan.

To read the full essay, click here.

Jerome Cohen’s “Ted Kennedy’s Role in Restoring Diplomatic Relations with China” is featured in NYU Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, Volume 14, Issue 2, commemorating the work of Senator Edward Kennedy

A Jersey Shore Analysis of the Hu Jintao State Visit

By , January 23, 2011

Welcome to the Jersey Shore!

State visits never produced tangible results, and last Wednesday’s visit of President Hu Jintao to Washington, D.C. was no exception.  True a series of business contracts  and joint ventures were announced, but not much else.  Really though, that’s not why we watch state visits – especially ones involving leaders of the two largest economies in the world.

We watch them more because they are a reality show of sorts – watching two world leaders from vastly different cultures walk the fine line between appearing strong for one’s own country’s interests but at the same time, not completely trampling the other country’s interests.  But unlike the Jersey Shore where one might just be sent home from the beach for misbehaving (think Angelina Season 1 AND Season 2), the consequences are much more serious when you are dealing with two countries whose future relationship can easily determine the fate of the world.

Fortunately, this State visit proved a lot more peaceful and face-saving than anything being shown on the Jersey Shore these days.  While there were some surprises, especially on the Chinese side, there were no fist-a-cuffs.  Overall, the visit seemed to show an improved relationship, at least rhetoric-wise, between the United States and China.

But this is a Jersey Shore analysis so enough of the feel goodness; the question still remains – who won?  Below is a point-by-point analysis of President Hu Jinato’s State visit.

Point for China – Hu Finally Gets a State Visit

The fact that there was a State visit at all was a huge point for China.  It’s been 13 years since a sitting Chinese president

Ceremony on the South Lawn, Jan. 19, 2011

was invited for a State visit and President Hu’s last visit to Washington in 2006 consisted of a lunch with President George W. Bush.  Could anything be more embarrassing for a world leader than to just be offered the lunch menu at the White House?

Unfortunately, yes.  Hu’s 2006 “official” (not state) visit was marred with embarrassing moments for the Chinese.  First, China was introduced as the Republic of China – the official name for Taiwan – sort of a huge gaffe in U.S.-China relations.  Second, a Falun Gong practitioner, a religious order that the Chinese government considers a threat to its rule, was able to obtain press credentials for Hu’s 2006 visit and protest at the event.

But for this visit, the Obama Administration pulled out all of the stops, making it a State visit to outdo all other State visits.  President Hu was greeted at the airport by Vice President Joe Biden and quickly ushered to the White House for an intimate dinner with President Obama.  At all times, China was introduced by its correct name and there were no protests on the South Lawn.

Michelle Obama at the State Dinner for President Hu Jintao

Culminating the event was Wednesday night’s State dinner, perhaps the most anticipated affair this winter.  In addition to a fun and interesting guest list, Michelle Obama chose an amazing dress in homage to one of fashion’s favorite designers – the late Alexander McQueen – making the event the talk of the town of both politicos and fashionistas.

Point for the U.S. – China Gets (a little bit) Tougher on North Korea

North Korea is proving to be a particularly troubling aspect of U.S.-China relations.  No one – including China – particularly cares for North Korea and its saber-rattling as Kim Jung-il’s son takes the rein of perhaps the world’s worst dictatorship.  North Korea’s bellicose activities interfere with China’s economic relations with its Asian neighbors.  But China has yet to take a strong stance against North Korea’s actions even though such actions upset the stability that China needs to continue its rise.  China’s hesitance comes from the fact that it fears a collapsed North Korea; not only would there be the demise of another communist ally, but a collapsed North Korea would mean an influx of starving Korean refugees into China as well as sharing a border with the democratic and U.S.-military-backed South Korea.

For its part, the United States has begun to see North Korea as an increasingly real threat against its allies and itself.  As a result, at Tuesday night’s intimate dinner between the two leaders, President Obama explained to President Hu that unless China takes a stronger stance against North Korea, the U.S. will be left with no choice but to rebuild a stronger military presence on the Korean peninsula.

That argument eventually carried the day.  In the Joint Statement issued on Wednesday, China, for the first time,

Kim Jong-il, Beijing's friend or foe?

“expressed concern” regarding North Korea’s nuclear build-up.  Additionally, while China has urged the resumption of “six party talks” with North Korea, the U.S. has hesitated, seeing it as a reward for North Korea’s bad behavior.  Evidently China and the U.S. were able to reach a compromise: before any six-party talks resume, the two Koreas must first resume their dialogue (see paragraph 18 of the Joint Statement).  On Thursday, South Korea agreed to low-level talks with the North.

Half a Point for the U.S. –Human Rights Makes the Agenda but an Odd Assortment of “Human Rights Advocates” Advise President Obama

Human rights loomed large during Hu’s State visit.  After meekly raising the issue during his State visit to China in November 2009, President Obama was having no criticism of his commitment to human rights.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made that apparent in her speech on January 14, 2011 when she not just raised the issue of human rights but also mentioned specific human rights advocates that the U.S. believed were been unlawfully detained.

President Obama continued to publicly press the issue of human rights.  President Obama publicly declared the universality of certain human rights as well as the need for the Chinese leadership to meet with the Dalai Lama.  Perhaps the most surprising of all was when President Hu admitted that China still had a ways to go in better protecting human rights (see the Q&A portion of the Joint Press Conference).

Normally, this should receive a full point.  But the U.S. loses a half a point because of form.  Prior to President’s Hu’s visit, President Obama met with five China human rights advocates.  These “advocates” included Prof. Andrew Nathan of Columbia University; Prof. Paul Gewirtz of the Yale China Law Center; author Zha Jianying; the wife of former Ambassador Winston Lord, Bette Bao Lord; and research scholar at the University of Maryland, Li Xiaorong.

While these five are likely well-informed on issues of human rights, there seems to be some missing names from the list of “human rights advocates.”  Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China has dedicated her life – and at times has risked her safety – to advocate for greater human rights protection; one can’t think of anyone else more qualified.  And if one wants to stick with academics (three of the five study human rights), it is questionable why Prof. Jerome Cohen of NYU School of Law was not in attendance.  Prof. Cohen continues to lambast China on its human rights record on an almost bi-weekly basis in his South China Morning Post articles and actively supports many human rights attorneys in China.

But most of all, why weren’t the Chinese human rights activists themselves invited?  Currently, the wife of missing human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng is in the United States as is the wife of imprisoned human rights lawyer Guo Feixiong.  Why not invite either of them to speak with the President of the current human rights situation in China?  Or exiled dissident Yang Jianli currently residing in the U.S.?  Or better yet – why not have a Skype chat with any of the human rights lawyers presently in China (Teng Biao, Mo Shaoping, Tang Jitian, Liu Wei)?  The latter might be a bit too much to ask, but the list of human rights advocates invited to speak with President Obama should have been longer.

Point for China – U.S. Promises to Rein in Spending

As the largest holder of U.S. debt, China is very concerned about the U.S.’ spending habits.  The Federal Reserve’s announcement of injecting more cash into the U.S. economy through “quantitative easing” only worsened China’s fear that its U.S. dollar reserves would lessen in value.  So when President Obama, in response to a reporter’s question during the joint press conference, stated that the U.S. must take greater responsibility in saving and cutting the U.S. deficit, China was very happy.

Half a Point for the U.S. – Government Procurement

China’s closed government procurement market and its indigenous innovation policy has been a issue for U.S. businesses.  China is not a member of the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (“GPA”) and as a result is not required to have an “open” government procurement market.  China has submitted two bids in the past few years to be a member of the GPA, most recently this past summer.  However, both applications have fallen far short and as a result, China remains outside of the GPA.

But surprisingly, in the U.S.-China Joint Statement (paragraph 27), China agreed to resubmit an application to the GPA by the end of 2011 and include sub-central government entities as subject to its proposal.  Such an agreement was unexpected and likely a welcome development to the U.S. business community.

So why half the point?  Seeing is believing in this case.  It’s not completely in China’s self-interest to be a member of the GPA at this stage so anticipate that its renewed application will still fall short of GPA requirements.  And even if it becomes a member, it’s questionable if China will enforce laws to promote an equitable government procurement market.

Point for U.S., Point for China – 100,000 Strong Initiative Articulated

Study Abroad in China!

During President Hu’s visit, Michelle Obama, in a speech before a thousand DC-area students, reaffirmed the Administrations’ commitment to sending 100,000 U.S. students to China on various study abroad programs (the “100,000 Strong Initiative”).  In 2008, less than 15,000 U.S. students (on both the college and high school levels) studied abroad in China. The U.S. has a long way to go before we reach 100,000 students but its commitment to achieving that goal is a win-win for both China and the U.S.

Americans’ knowledge of China is abysmally low; as China rises, our lack of our understanding its history, culture or language becomes dangerous.  Study abroad programs can help bridge that gap.  While very few U.S. students will continue on their China path after their study abroad program, just being exposed to the culture and the difficulties that the nation faces is important.  But there will also be some students that will continue on that path, providing an invaluable resource to the American government as China continues its rise as a global power.

The “strong” in the 100,000 Strong Initiative is more about strengthening the cultural ties and understanding between our two nations.  While China sends 10 times the number of students to the Untied States, it is important that U.S. students go to China for those Chinese who will never come to America.  What’s even more important is that the 100,000 Strong Initiative reaches out to community colleges and historically black colleges and universities, both of which have been underrepresented in China study abroad programs.  It is important that the students the U.S. sends to China reflect our great diversity.

Sec. Gates, not a happy camper on US-China military ties

No Points for Anyone – Military-to-Military Ties Remain the Same

There doesn’t seem to be a change in military-to-military ties.  After the U.S. sold arms to Taiwan last January, China broke off military ties and the relationship has barely warmed.  When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Beijing a few weeks ago, a stealth jet fighter was flown unbeknown to even President Hu Jintao.

The Joint Statement (paragraph 9) includes language on improving and deepening communication between the two militaries.  But it appears to be boilerplate language similar to the language found in the Joint Statement issued after President Obama’s visit to China in November 2009.  The fact that China’s military remains non-transparent, secretive and slightly threatening is a serious issue.  The fact that President Hu did not seem to have control of the military, even though he is the nominal Chairman of the Central Military Commission, is even more troubling, for both the U.S. and China.

The U.S. military is stationed through out China and patrols many international waters.  The Chinese military is becoming increasingly assertive at times.  Small incidents have occurred in the past.  But without good communications between the two militaries, it is easy for any small incident to become an international one that could upset the stability in the Pacific.  Hopefully the promised high-level military visits between the two countries will soon produce results.  Then both the Chinese and American people will find it easier to sleep at night.

Winner?

It’s a tie. As far as State visits go, this was a pretty good one.  Everyone got something they wanted and can bring back positive results to their respective people.  Aside from military relations, U.S.-China rhetoric seems to be improving.  Hopefully this trend can continue.

VIDEO: Panel Discussions in Honor of Prof. Jerome A. Cohen

By , March 9, 2010
Prof. Jerome A. Cohen - Photo by George Washington Law School

Prof. Jerome A. Cohen - Photo by George Washington Law School

On February 19, 2010, George Washington School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center hosted an academic conference in honor of noted Chinese legal scholar Prof. Jerome A. Cohen.  Consisting of four separate panel discussions on current legal issues in China, the afternoon conference, and it’s participants (all of whom were students of Prof. Cohen’s) was a testament to the continued importance of Prof. Cohen’s work in the field.

Panel 1 – Google & Freedom of Online Information
(7:20 start) Rebecca MacKinnon, Visiting Fellow, Center for Information Tech. Policy, Princeton
(19:35 start) Lawrence Liu, Senior Counsel, Congressional-Executive Commission on China
(28:49 start) Sharon Hom, Executive Director, Human Rights in China
Click here for video of this panel.

Panel 2 – Business Law
(1:43 start)Donald Clarke, Professor of Law, George Washington University Law School
(10:25 start) Nicholas C. Howson, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School
(19:22start) James Feinerman, Co-Director/Prof. of Law, Law-Asia Leadership, Georgetown Law
Click here for video of this panel.

Panel 3 – Human Rights, Civil Society & Criminal Law
(1:07 start) Xiaorong Li, Research Scholar, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland
(9:18 start)Karla Simon, Professor of Law, Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America
(21:25 start)Eva Pils, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
(33:38 start) Scot Tanner, China Security Analyst, The CNA Corporation
Click here for video of this panel.

Panel 4 – International Law
(1:32 start) Julia Qin, Associate Professor of Law, Wayne State University Law School
(10:35 start) Michael Schlesinger, Of Counsel, Greenberg Traurig, LLP
(20:00 start) Timothy Stratford, Former Assistant U.S. Trade Rep. for China Affairs, USTR
(28:15 start) Alex Wang, Senior Attorney & Director, China Environmental Law Project, NRDC
Click here for video of this panel.

CLOSING REMARKS BY PROF. JEROME COHEN – Click Here

Thank you to Prof. Don Clarke of George Washington School of Law for making the videos of the conference available.


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

A Bit Too Much Pollyanna? Brookings’ Report on Legal Development in China

By , October 19, 2009

pollyanna-150x150Many Western China observers were dismayed by this past summer’s arrests and harassment of Chinese public interest lawyers; for many, such a crackdown evidenced a step back in creating an independent legal system.  Cheng Li and Jordan Lee of the Brookings Institution offer a different interpretation.  In their recent work, “China’s Legal System,” Li and Lee maintain that while the arrest and detention of rights lawyers like Xu Zhiyong was certainly a disappointment, China’s recent progress with legal reform overshadows this past summer’s events.  But even though Li and Lee are correct to note some of the positive developments, especially with the growth of the legal profession in China, they perhaps put too much weight on these developments at the expense of recent obstacles.

Li and Lee offer four developments that they claim bode well for legal development in China: (1) an increasing body of law, with new laws being written and old ones amended; (2) the astronomical growth in the number of lawyers; (3) increasing economic autonomy and a greater sense of professionalism in the legal profession; and (4) the rapidly rising number of legally-trained government officials.

Li and Lee cite the huge number of laws that China currently has on the books (231 individual laws, 600 administrative regulations, 7,000 local rules and regulations, and a sizable number of departmental regulations), but only pay passing attention to China’s difficulty in implementing laws on the local level, arguably the most important aspect of a functioning legal system.  To be sure, drafting laws is the first step; but without meaningful and consistent implementation, the value of such a large body of law is questionable.

Additionally, Li and Lee look to the increased professionalization of the legal profession as a positive sign.  It is true Gavel-LawBookthat the Chinese bar has become more professionalized and lawyers are no longer employees of the State as they were in the 1950s.  But Li and Lee make no mention of the fact that the All China Lawyers Association and local bar associations are government-controlled and answer to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).  Prof. Jerome Cohen of NYU’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute has consistently commented on this lack of independence of the Chinese bar and has noted the role that the MOJ has played in influencing bar associations to punish rights lawyers that go a bit too far for the government’s taste.

Finally, Li and Lee are correct to note that there has been an increase in the number of legally trained government officials rising through the ranks.  Most officials in the current leadership have a science background, with very few with a background in law or even the social sciences.  In the next generation of officials, currently being groomed for powerful positions in the Party and the government, a majority have a background in the social sciences.  But only one, Li Keqing, has a background in law.  Thus, a shift toward leaders with legal training is not as apparent as Li and Lee contend.  Furthermore, such a shift is not reflected in the positions in the Chinese government that one would think necessitate legal training.  Hu Jintao’s recent appointments to the MOJ and the Central Party Political-Legal Committee (the committee responsible for all legal institutions) all lack legal training; instead, many have training in the police force providing for a more militant view of justice.  Even the new president of the Supreme People’s Court, Wang Shengjun, has no formal legal training.

China’s legal development has come a long way since the era of Mao, when law was merely a tool for class struggle and lawyers were often harshly persecuted.  But using the Cultural Revolution as a baseline will only impede China’s progress; arguably, everything is better now than it was during the Cultural Revolution.  China has made progress, but its progress should not be overstated and its limitations need to be noted in order to move forward.

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