Monday, June 30, 2014
The Chinese government and its allies in Hong Kong’s business elite seem to be in full panic mode over the Occupy Central movement (which, let us recall, has not yet occupied so much as a garden shed). First came the PRC government’s stern warning earlier this month in the form of a White Paper reminding Hong Kong who was boss. Presumably emboldened by this, the accountants decided that their input would be valued by the public. Yes, the accountants: the Big 4 in Hong Kong (Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte, and PricewaterhouseCoopers) published a joint statement last Friday in three Chinese-language newspapers [Chinese | English (scroll down)] announcing their opposition to the Occupy Central movement.
Overall, I don’t have much to add to Paul Gillis’s blog post:
The arrogance of the firms is stunning. Did they really think their voice would alter the debate? Do they really think people respect their opinions that much? Did they not see that all they were doing is setting themselves up for ridicule while diminishing their brand worldwide?
Paul also adds some thoughts about whether, if they did this at the behest of certain big clients, they have therefore compromised their independence under IAS (International Accounting Standards).
I wonder a bit if the statement was drafted by someone with PRC connections. To be fair, it doesn’t read exactly like PRC Chinese; there are many places where it uses words and expressions not common in PRC officialese. (For example, it says 各式各样 instead of the more common 各种各样, and 进行著 instead of 进行着.) But in the signature line it names Deloitte Hong Kong as德勤.關黃陳方會計師事務所 instead of using Deloitte Hong Kong’s official name, 德勤.關黃陳方會計師行. For those who don’t read Chinese, it used the common mainland term for “accounting firm” (kuaijishi shiwusuo) instead of a different term that Deloitte Hong Kong actually uses (kuaijishi hang). If you check out this page, you can see that Deloitte uses “kuaijishi hang” for its Hong Kong entity and “kuaijishi shiwusuo” for its mainland PRC entity. (Thanks to sharp-eyed commenter “percysmith” on Paul Gillis’s blog, who spotted the misnaming.)
Not surprisingly, “[w]hen the Financial Times approached the big four’s global headquarters for comment, it emerged that they had only learned of the advertisement through press reports.” The various local entities sporting the names of the Big 4 are typically not properly characterized as “branches”; they are more like franchises that bear a common name and may have some level of cooperation, but they don’t have common ownership. The Big 4 in Hong Kong could have issued this statement without the knowledge or approval of any other Big 4 offices anywhere in the world.
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
There has been quite a bit of attention in the Chinese press recently to proposed and perhaps in-process reforms to the Chinese judicial system. These reforms were authorized in broad strokes by the 3rd Plenum of the 18th Central Committee last fall, and at least some are now on the road to implementation. An important reform is that of partially centralizing (i.e., up to the provincial level) the power of appointments and funding for local courts (see para. 32 of the Third Plenum Decision).
Recently, the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reform, a Party body headed by Xi Jinping, issued three documents relevant to judicial reform: (1) Opinion on Deepening Reform in the Judicial System and Social System and Plan for Division of Labor in Implementation (关于深化司法体制和社会体制改革的意见及贯彻实施分工方案); Framework Opinion on Several Issues Relating to Experimental Points in Judicial Reform (关于司法体制改革试点若干问题的框架意见); and (3) Work Plan for the Shanghai Experimental Point in Judicial Reform (上海市司法改革试点工作方案). Unfortunately, none of these documents have been made public, but their content has been sketched in the official press. Here are two articles from the Chinese press [first | second] and very helpful English-language summary courtesy of Chinese Law Translate.
These documents (at least as explicated by a government spokesman) contain a number of worthy and important reforms. Financing of all local courts is to be handled at the provincial level, as are appointments. Apparently this reform is already in process in Shanghai. (Shanghai has the administrative status of a province.) What this means is that district (区) governments and People's Congresses will no longer have power over finances and personnel respectively in Basic-Level People's Courts in their district.
This is all very well, but what seems to have been overlooked in the zeal to reform the court system is the fact that you can't do it just by making some decisions within the Party. The system whereby local authorities (i.e., Party, government, and People's Congress) control courts at the same level (at least as to personnel appointments) is enshrined both in the Court Organization Law (Art. 34) and the Constitution (Art. 101). To be sure, as reported it is not crystal clear that the reforms formally take the power of appointment away from local authorities. But it is crystal clear that local authorities will not be making the decisions. The decision as to who will be a judge in a local court will be made at the provincial level, and then "the local People's Congresses will appoint or dismiss in accordance with legal procedures" (人大依照法律程序任免).
In other words, a project designed to improve the legal system is treating legal rules as at best meaningless formalities and at worst non-existent. It seems that the problem of weak legal institutions is being dealt with the same way Simon Leys (quoting Alexandre Vialatte) describes the fate of cannibals in a certain republic: "There are no more cannibals in that country since the local authorities ate the last ones."
The death sentence imposed on Li Yan, who killed her abusive husband, was recently overturned on review (not technically an appeal) by the Supreme People's Court. The case will go back to the Higher-Level People's Court (i.e., the provincial-level court) of Sichuan Province for re-trial.
Here are the key elements of the case as reported that I want to discuss:
1. "China's Supreme People's Court has ordered a higher court in the southwestern province of Sichuan to retry the case because of insufficient evidence and lack of clarity on some facts"
2. "Li, 43, was sentenced to death in 2012 for killing her husband Tan Yong. Tan had physically, sexually and verbally abused Li for more than three years, burning her with cigarettes and cutting off one of her fingers"
3. "Li beat her husband to death with an air gun after he threatened to shoot her."
4. "Supporters say Li should not have been sentenced to death because the police and the first two courts did not take into consideration the abuse she had suffered."
Point 2 is a claim that certain facts existed.
Point 4 is a claim that those facts are legally relevant to the case, and that the first two courts committed an error of law by not taking them into account.
Point 1 appears to represent an acknowledgement by the SPC of the validity of Point 4.
Finally, Point 3 suggests that regardless of whether other facts exist and are relevant, the homicide was not premeditated.
The point of all this is to note the disparity in the sentence meted out to Li Yan on the basis of apparently undisputed facts and the sentence meted out to Gu Kailai, the wife of Bo Xilai who was convicted of the murder of Neil Heywood. (Gu got a death sentence with a two-year suspension; such sentences are virtually always commuted to life imprisonment at the end of the two-year period.) In that case, there was no dispute that the homicide was premeditated. There is also generally no dispute that premeditated homicide is worse than non-premeditated homicide. Thus, even if the first two courts in Li Yan's case were right, and the evidence of prior abuse was either insufficient or irrelevant, we still find someone convicted of unpremeditated murder getting a harsher sentence than someone convicted of premeditated murder.
It's not that Li's sentence is unusual; it's that Gu's sentence is unusual.
Friday, June 6, 2014
China's Global Times, a newspaper known for its highly nationalist bent, commemorated June 4th by publishing an op-ed by a man named John Ross, currently a senior fellow at People's University's Chongyang Institute of Finance and a former advisor to former London mayor Ken Livingstone. I'm not going to reproduce the whole thing here - just click on the link to read it. I want to address some of the arguments Ross makes because I see them over and over, and they don't get better with repetition.
1. “China” has lifted X million people out of poverty. Since “China” here is way too vague to be a meaningful concept, what can this statement possibly mean? I take it it must mean something like “wise Party policies”. By all means let us give appropriate credit to those who revoked policies that imposed poverty on the people of China. But let’s also give credit to the people of China who built their own wealth. I didn’t see Deng Xiaoping or Xi Jinping down there at the construction site. Furthermore, by this logic we should also give full credit of course to Great Britain for bringing us the Industrial Revolution, and to the much-maligned US two-party system for sponsoring the postwar economic and political order that lifted large sections of the world out of poverty as well. Finally, this formulation completely avoids the question of whether things like political repression were a necessary part of those poverty-eradicating policies.
2. By pointing out bad things about the US, or the hypocrisy of its foreign policy, one can successfully refute criticisms of China. The silliness of this position is obvious on its face. I don’t know why anyone with academic pretensions would use it. Why does everything have to revolve around the United States? It’s just one country. Can I revalidate the criticisms of China by showing that the countercriticisms of the US don’t apply to, say, Canada or Australia or Botswana? It’s all so silly.
3. Critics of China unreasonably demand that it adopt every trapping of Western democratic systems. “Consequently the attempt to reduce 'human rights' to a Western style political structure, as though having a 'parliamentary' system were the most important question facing human beings, is ridiculous.” What’s even more ridiculous is the straw man that this is what people who care about human rights are demanding. It’s much simpler, really: for example, give people accused of crimes a fair hearing, which means, among other things, not kidnapping witnesses and lawyers; don’t beat up people like Ni Yulan until they are crippled, and then imprison them without crutches so they have to drag themselves around in the shit on their cell floor; etc.
4. Each country has the right to choose its own form of government. Again, abstract words like “country” are just obfuscations here. The whole point is, who gets to speak and decide for “the country”? Does Ross mean “the citizens of each country”? If so, he must therefore be rejecting systems where citizens don’t get a choice. But then he seems to think absolute monarchy is OK if “the country” wants it, so apparently “the country” is something different from the people who live in it. I have never heard anyone say, “We must respect the choices this country has made” where it didn’t mean, “We must respect the choices the current configuration of political power has come up with”. The vapid language of respect for choice obscures critical distinctions about how that choice was made and whether it’s worth respecting – questions not susceptible to a single right answer, to be sure, but certainly questions that need to be asked.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Here's a piece just published by Jerry Cohen entitled, "Lawfare or Warfare? Let Impartial Tribunals Cool Asia’s Maritime Disputes."
Sunday, May 25, 2014
According to the Financial Times, "China has ordered state-owned enterprises to cut ties with US consulting companies such as McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group because of fears they are spying on behalf of the US government." This comes on the heels of a report just a few days earlier that "Beijing has banned central government departments from installing Windows 8." (I will assume for the sake of this discussion that "installing" includes "purchasing.")
Questions have been raised as to whether these moves are WTO-compliant. Fortunately, the Windows 8 case is easy, and we don't even have to figure out whether software is a good covered by the GATT or a service covered by the GATS. This is because the ban applies to "central government departments," and so is clearly a case of government procurement. As China has not yet joined the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), it can do what it likes in that area.
The management consulting case is harder. The first thing to do is to check China's schedule of commitments under the GATS to see if it made any commitments in the area of management consulting. Yup, there it is:
The next step is to figure out if there's any reason why that commitment should not apply in this case. How about government procurement? After all, the government didn't order everyone to stop using US consulting services; only state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
But making this argument puts China in an awkward position. At this very moment it is negotiating the terms of its accession to the GPA and resisting demands from other members that SOEs be included as subject to GPA commitments, presumably by arguing that SOEs are just regular market-oriented folks who seek the best product at the cheapest price and don’t take orders from government. This is in fact what it stated in the WTO accession negotiations in response to Working Party concerns. Here are the relevant parts of the Working Party Report:
6. State-Owned and State-Invested Enterprises
43. The representative of China stated that the state-owned enterprises of China basically operated in accordance with rules of market economy. The government would no longer directly administer the human, finance and material resources, and operational activities such as production, supply and marketing. The prices of commodities produced by state-owned enterprises were decided by the market and resources in operational areas were fundamentally allocated by the market. The state-owned banks had been commercialized and lending to state-owned enterprises took place exclusively under market conditions. China was furthering its reform of state-owned enterprises and establishing a modern enterprise system.
44. In light of the role that state-owned and state-invested enterprises played in China's economy, some members of the Working Party expressed concerns about the continuing governmental influence and guidance of the decisions and activities of such enterprises relating to the purchase and sale of goods and services. Such purchases and sales should be based solely on commercial considerations, without any governmental influence or application of discriminatory measures. In addition, those members indicated the need for China to clarify its understanding of the types of activities that would not come within the scope of Article III:8(a) of GATT 1994. For example, any measure relating to state-owned and state-invested enterprises importing materials and machinery used in the assembly of goods, which were then exported or otherwise made available for commercial sale or use or for non-governmental purposes, would not be considered to be a measure relating to government procurement.
45. The representative of China emphasized the evolving nature of China's economy and the significant role of FIEs and the private sector in the economy. Given the increasing need and desirability of competing with private enterprises in the market, decisions by state-owned and state-invested enterprises had to be based on commercial considerations as provided in the WTO Agreement.
46. The representative of China further confirmed that China would ensure that all state-owned and state-invested enterprises would make purchases and sales based solely on commercial considerations, e.g., price, quality, marketability and availability, and that the enterprises of other WTO Members would have an adequate opportunity to compete for sales to and purchases from these enterprises on non-discriminatory terms and conditions. In addition, the Government of China would not influence, directly or indirectly, commercial decisions on the part of state-owned or state-invested enterprises, including on the quantity, value or country of origin of any goods purchased or sold, except in a manner consistent with the WTO Agreement. The Working Party took note of these commitments.
47. The representative of China confirmed that, without prejudice to China's rights in future negotiations in the Government Procurement Agreement, all laws, regulations and measures relating to the procurement by state-owned and state-invested enterprises of goods and services for commercial sale, production of goods or supply of services for commercial sale, or for non-governmental purposes would not be considered to be laws, regulations and measures relating to government procurement. Thus, such purchases or sales would be subject to the provisions of Articles II [regarding most favored nation treatment], XVI [regarding market access] and XVII [regarding national treatment] of the GATS and Article III [regarding national treatment] of the GATT 1994. The Working Party took note of this commitment.
The commitments mentioned in Paras. 46 and 47 are more than just idle promises; they are incorporated by reference into China’s WTO Protocol of Accession and therefore form part of its WTO obligations. Thus, it seems that were China to call this a case of government procurement, it would not only be undermining its current position in the GPA negotiations, but would also be violating its specific commitments in its WTO Protocol of Accession.
Well, wait a minute, you might say. Isn't there some kind of broad national security exception countries can always invoke? It turns out that the national security exception, at least as written, is pretty narrow. Here's what the GATS says about it in Article XIV bis:
1. Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed:
(a) to require any Member to furnish any information, the disclosure of which it considers contrary to its essential security interests; or
(b) to prevent any Member from taking any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests:
(i) relating to the supply of services as carried out directly or indirectly for the purpose of provisioning a military establishment;
(ii) relating to fissionable and fusionable materials or the materials from which they are derived;
(iii) taken in time of war or other emergency in international relations; or
(c) to prevent any Member from taking any action in pursuance of its obligations under the United Nations Charter for the maintenance of international peace and security.
That's it. Surprisingly enough, it doesn't look like "fear of state secrets leaking into the hands of a foreign power," no matter how legitimate that fear might be, counts. Needless to say, there is absolutely zero chance that any government would put WTO rules above its own conception of its security needs.
My conclusion, then, is that the anti-Windows 8 measure passes muster but the anti-management consulting measure does not. Let me add that I'm not a WTO expert and don't even play one on television, so there may be some aspect of the issue that I've overlooked. Check this space for a red-faced update.
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Tuesday, April 29, 2014
I have received the following announcement of job openings, including one in governance and law, from my friend David Kelly at China Policy. Note that only Chinese nationals can be considered.
China Policy is seeking lead analysts in our key sectors: Economy; Energy, Resources and Environment, Governance and Law, Social Policy and Agriculture Food and Water Security. These positions are well-suited to recent PhDs returning to China for employment. Visa restrictions mean only PRC passport holders can be considered. See our website for job descriptions.
A little bit about CP
China Policy is an evidence-based, knowledge-intensive information and advisory company registered in Beijing and operating worldwide. CP has in a few short years gained a growing client base among government, corporations and international organisations.
Our operations cluster around cp.context, an online research and learning tool. This supports regular publications: cp.leads, which is widely distributed, and cp.briefsand cp.records that are client-only publications The comprehensive policy records appear monthly, with one record for each of our major policy sectors (Governance and Law; Economy; Social Policy; Energy, Resources and Environment and Agriculture Food and Water Security) appearing in sequence weekly.
Staff producing these cutting-edge services all meet professional requirements in relevant disciplines as well as in Chinese and English. Junior staff are for the most part at grad student level, and lead analysts at PhD level or with equivalent work experience in one of the sectors.
Sunday, April 27, 2014
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Noted political commentator and former (until fired) Southern Weekend columnist Chen Min, who writes under the pen name Xiao Shu (笑蜀), will speak at George Washington University Law School at 6 p.m. on April 22, 2014. Details are in this flyer. The talk will be webcast here: http://bit.ly/1tbgW5l.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
On February 14th I posted what was definitely not a valentine to Confucius Institutes written by University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, as well as a response written by my colleague Ed McCord. Sahlins has now written a rejoinder, and McCord in turn a surrejoinder (I think that's what it's called - if the debate goes on any longer I will run out of vocabulary).
This is an important debate to have. I think Sahlins is right to be concerned, even seriously concerned. If Confucius Institutes did not exist, would anyone not in the Chinese government have proposed them as a model for promoting China studies around the world? At the same time, I know Ed McCord to be a scholar of integrity and sound judgment, who has not hesitated to offend the PRC government in the past when his principles called for it. Both perspectives need to be heard.
Saturday, April 5, 2014
"Minor property rights" (小产权) is the term used to describe the rights you get (or think you get) when you "buy" rural, collectively-owned land. I use quotation marks because you can't actually buy collectively-owned land. You can't even buy a long-term use right to it, the way you can buy a 70-year use right to land for residential use in urban China. But villages purport to sell these rights and urbanites purport to buy them, because they're cheaper than the fully lawful and relatively robust rights you get when you buy urban land. And the developments on minor property rights land can be pretty substantial (see the photo below); we're not talking about tarpaper shacks here.
Now the media is reporting that minor property rights land is being occupied not just by the living, but by the dead - and for the same reasons. It's getting too expensive to die in China, so people have to find cheaper options. Here are some reports:
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
I have received the following announcement:
Law Fellow, ABA ROLI China
ABA ROLI is a non-profit program that implements legal reform initiatives in roughly 60 countries around the world, with nearly 700 professional staff working abroad and in its Washington, D.C. office. ABA ROLI has been working with local partners in China to implement legal reform projects since 1998. The ABA ROLI China program has provided training, supported practical research, supplied technical comparative expertise and facilitated professional exchange relationships between Chinese legal reformers and their counterparts abroad. Local partnership and collaboration lies at the heart of ABA ROLI’s programs, whose partners include China’s judiciary, bar associations, universities, civil society organizations and legal scholars.
The ABA ROLI China Law Fellowship is a one-year, unpaid fellowship that provides recent law school graduates with the opportunity to work with our Beijing-based team to support legal reform initiatives in collaboration with Chinese partners. Law Fellows provide assistance with research, implementation and evaluation of programs, and outreach efforts. Our programs cover a broad range of substantive areas including women’s rights, the rights of the disabled, criminal justice reform, environmental protection, and civil society capacity building. Competitive candidates will have a background in China, experience living and/ or working in China, and will be proficient in Mandarin.
• Assist with legal research;
• Assist with the design, implementation and evaluation of programs; and
• Assist with the development of outreach materials.
• Must have a JD or equivalent degree
• Excellent analytical, writing, oral communication, and interpersonal skills
• Knowledge of China, including the legal system and the current political and cultural context
• Fluency in English required and proficiency in Chinese (Mandarin) preferred
Interested individuals should send a brief (1-2 pages maximum) cover letter, CV, and 2 references in English by email to Ms. Winona Qi at: email@example.com.
Candidates will be considered on a rolling basis until the position is filled. ABA-ROLI will contact only those candidates whom it selects for interviews.
I have received the following announcement:
ABA Rule of Law Initiative
Summer and Fall 2014
The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative seeks candidates to work as legal interns on a variety of legal assistance projects being implemented from the Beijing program office of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative.
The ABA Rule of Law Initiative China Program is a public service project that provides technical assistance in support of justice reforms and capacity building. ABA’s program office in Beijing, with support from Washington, D.C.-based staff, supports a variety of legal reforms and legal training projects in China, in partnership with Chinese civil society organizations, universities, and law professionals. Interns will have the opportunity to meet and support the work of Chinese civil society advocates and public interest lawyers.
Legal interns will report to Program Managers and assist with program implementation in one or more program areas, including environmental protection, criminal justice, civil society development and intellectual property rights. Work duties of the legal interns will include:
• Monitoring program progress and assisting Program Managers in implementing and reporting on programs;
• Monitoring new developments and current events related to issues in the media, social networks, and other information outlets;
• Researching and writing on legal issues and current events;
• Reviewing and organizing relevant resource materials in ABA program library;
• Translating program documents and news articles between Chinese and English;
• Accompanying foreign visitor experts in China and assisting with communications through informal interpretation; and
• General administrative assistance including: assisting with event preparations and implementation, and other administrative assistance to ABA staff as needed.
• Candidate for B.A. or Masters/ JD in Law or related field;
• Fluency in both spoken and written Mandarin and English;
• Strong sense of responsibility and ability to work independently;
• Excellent communication skills;
• Professional demeanor; and
• Experience in a bilingual work environment or an international NGO is a plus
Internships will be part-time with a minimum commitment for the summer holiday break or the fall academic semester. Flexible working hours are anticipated. Interns will receive a small stipend.
Interested candidates should send a brief (1-2 pages maximum) cover letter indicating their experience and interest in legal development activities in China, their available dates, and their resume in English by email to Ms. Winona Qi at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Only candidates selected for an interview will be contacted.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
The post will remain open until filled, so interested persons should apply as soon as possible. The job announcement is attached here. According to the job announcement, the location is "ideally" Washington, DC.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Prof. SHEN Wei of Shanghai Jiaotong University Law School will give a talk at GW Law School this Thursday evening. The topic is "Understanding China's Local Government Debt Crisis: Causes and Solutions (or No Way Out?)". Click here for a flyer and a bio of Prof. Shen. The talk will be recorded and webcast live; here's the link for the webcast.
Date: April 3
Time: 6 p.m.
Place: Room 402, Lerner Hall, 2000 H St. NW, Washington, DC (Lerner Hall is where you are when you enter the law school at the 2000 H St. entrance).