CECC Chairman and Cochairman Issue Statement on China's Legal Development

Congressional-Executive Commission on China | www.cecc.gov

CECC Chairman and Cochairman Issue Statement on China's Legal Development

June 25, 2008

(Washington, DC)—In the wake of the crackdown on protests in Tibetan areas of China, the aftermath of the tragic earthquake of May 12, and with the many challenges China faces in the run-up to the Olympic Summer Games, it remains unclear at this time what factors will set the course of China’s future development of the rule of law. By the “rule of law,” we mean true rule of law, not documents stamped with the word “law” that officials then allow to become so divorced from effective implementation that the distinction between the promulgation of law and the making of propaganda becomes blurred.

Effective implementation remains a growing concern in China in part because it places the credibility of three decades of legal and regulatory reform at ever-increasing risk. In its last Annual Report, this Commission noted four factors that appeared to be highly influential in determining the course of China’s future legal development.

  • First, China’s leaders’ increasing intolerance of citizen activism.
  • Second, increasing, and increasingly obvious, manipulation of law for politically expedient purposes.
  • Third, a concerted effort to ensure that sensitive disputes do not enter legal channels, thereby insulating the Central government from the backlash of national policy problems.
  • Fourth, the growing impact outside of China of its domestic problems of implementation.

The Commission’s 2007 Annual Report explicitly noted that “the impact of emergencies” and China’s response to emergencies “will both shape and be shaped by China’s rule of law reforms. Because their impact on the course of rule of law in China is expected to be large, these developments are covered here in added detail.” That was nearly six months before the Tibetan protests, and eight months before the recent earthquake. Of course the emergencies to which the Report referred were not these (it discussed food safety, product quality and climate change), but the notion that emergencies per se would become a major element structuring the course of China’s future legal development was a significant observation.

In this newsletter, as in the Commission’s recent June 18 hearing titled, “What Will Drive China’s Future Legal Development? Reports from the Field,” the Commission continues its ongoing effort to accurately understand what factors will determine the course of the development of the rule of law in China, and what impact these factors will have on creating an atmosphere of progress for China’s citizens.