Author: Margaret Lewis


China’s New Internet Security Initiative


Reports that President Xi Jinping is heading up a new central Internet security and informatization leading group are garnering considerable buzz among China watchers.  According to Xi, “The group is designed to lead and coordinate Internet security and informatization work among different sectors, as well as draft national strategies, development plans and major policies in this field….”

That Xi himself is heading the group—and is joined by two other members of the Politburo Standing Committee—indicates that this new body might have serious heft. What is unclear at this point is to what extent the group is aimed at shoring up China’s own perceived vulnerability to cyber-attacks, further cracking down on Internet freedom, or accomplishing other aims. For example, the leading group could help rein in rogue hacking coming from China, though, as warned by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, it is questionable how much of the hacking is government endorsed or even directed.

At a minimum, having a clearly defined, high-level body dealing with cybersecurity could facilitate coordination with other countries, as for example recommended in a Council on Foreign Relations Task Force report that states it “is essential for the leading nations to agree on a set of norms for activity and engagement in cyberspace.”


The Long Arm of US Law Enforcement


The front page of today’s NY Times reports on yesterday’s arrest of the notorious drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka “El Chapo.” Although the raid was carried out by Mexican forces, the Times reports that they were “aided by information from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, immigration and customs officials and the United States Marshalls Service . . . .”  It is unclear whether Guzmán will be extradited to the United States.

The raid brings back memories of when the US took a more direct route to capturing fugitives in Mexico: the 1990 capture and transfer to the United States of Humberto Álvarez-Machaín by Mexican nationals at the behest of the US Government. Read More


Who’s a Pirate?


For anyone who served as a faculty advisor or judge for the recent Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition pirates have likely been on your mind because of the issue in this year’s compromis as to whether Oscar de Luz is a pirate.

Pirates are also in the news as well, and not just because of Captain Phillips’ Best Picture nomination. As Milena Sterio writes over at IntLawGrrls, “United States’ prosecutors have decided to drop charges against Ali Mohamed Ali, who had been charged with piracy, as well as with hostage-taking, for his alleged role as translator/negotiator after the seizure of a Danish vessel in 2008.”

Turning to another piracy case, the opinion in U.S. v. Said makes for fun class discussion when teaching statutory interpretation as part of a Criminal Law course. It turns out neither owning a parrot nor saying “Yarrrr, Matey!” are necessary or sufficient for piracy. So have fun on September 19 each year for “International Talk Like a Pirate Day” without fear of prosecution!


Lonely Hearts in China


Valentine’s Day has blossomed into an international holiday, much to the delight of the greeting card, flower, and chocolate industries. In China, however, Valentine’s Day will be without romance for many young heterosexual men who face a pronounced gender gap: “By 2020, sociologists expect an ‘extra’ 35 million Chinese men—males for whom there are simply no available female partners. That’s slightly more than the population of Canada.”

When Valentine’s Day does not offer up the promise of romance, many in China have turned to “Singles’ Day,” which falls on November 11 because of the four ones in the date “11/11.” Several years ago, creative marketing departments at online retailers encouraged lonely men to seek solace in retail therapy leading the unofficial holiday to “become the world’s largest online shopping event.” Now men and women are both in on the Singles’ Day cyber-shopping frenzy. Read More


Xi and Putin BFF?

China Flag Russian Flag

Images of Chinese President Xi Jinping sitting cozily with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony not only emphasized that a number of heads of state were not in attendance, but also highlighted the complex Sino-Russian relationship. Putin—certainly not the most gregarious or affable of world leaders—even equated Xi’s trip to a “visit to good friends.” And China’s official People’s Daily newspaper reports, “Mr. Putin cheerfully recalled the experience when he and Mr. Xi drank vodka together to celebrate his birthday last year. ‘I know that I have many friends in China,’ Putin said. ‘It is not surprising, because we have special relations with China, and I have special feelings for China.’”

Sino-Russian relations have not always been so cordial. Upon tossing out all of the bourgeoisie laws of the capitalist running dogs when founding the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Mao Zedong understandably looked north to the USSR for inspiration in shaping the PRC’s legal system. The influence remains today, for example in the use of a procuratorate (or “procuracy”) to prosecute cases and oversee other aspects of the legal system. Since Khrushchev’s process of de-Stalinization diminished Mao’s confidence in his neighbors to the north (and created concerns about possible de-Maoization at home), Sino-Russian relations have periodically waxed and waned. Today, China and Russia are the two largest members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and China is Russia’s largest trading partner.

In late 2012 when Xi Jinping took over as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China—his more important title than “President”—questions understandably arose about what type of leader he would be. Xi’s first state visit was to Russia, and Xi has commented that he and Putin have similar personalities. It is too early in Xi’s tenure to say whether he will closely emulate Putin’s strong man persona. Nonetheless, it is looking increasingly unlikely that he will be China’s Gorbachev.


Extralegal Detention of Chen Guangcheng

For my final post as a guest blogger for October, I wanted to draw people’s attention to a hearing that the Congressional-Executive Commission on China is holding in DC tomorrow titled “Examination into the Abuse and Extralegal Detention of Legal Advocate Chen Guangcheng and His Family.” As described by the Commission, “Chen is a self-trained legal advocate who has represented farmers, the disabled, and other groups. He is perhaps best known for the attention he drew to population planning abuses, particularly forced abortions and forced sterilizations, in Linyi city, Shandong province, in 2005. In deeply flawed legal proceedings, authorities sentenced him in 2006 to four years and three months in prison for, among other things, ‘organizing a group of people to disturb traffic order.’ While imprisoned Chen was reportedly beaten by fellow inmates and denied medical treatment. Following his release in September 2010, Chen, his wife Yuan Weijing, and their six-year-old daughter have faced stifling conditions of home confinement and constant surveillance.” I discussed Chen’s case at an earlier Commission roundtable on the challenges facing human rights defenders and lawyers in China.

Chen has been in the news as people from around China have attempted, unsuccessfully, to visit him at his home. The PRC Government’s concern that Chen is receiving increasing attention is reflected in the decision to ban keywords related to his name on micro-blog sites, as reported here by China Digital Times. Although Internet censorship certainly is not new to China, government officials have recently emphasized the need to regulate micro-blogs like Sina Weibo, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

While the extra-legal detention of Chen carries on, debate also continues regarding pending reforms to the PRC Criminal Procedure Law, which are expected to pass into law next spring. The National People’s Congress received approximately 70,000 comments on the draft during a one-month comment period. Domestic and foreign commentators have particularly focused on provisions regarding residential surveillance (i.e., the ability for police to restrict people to a location, not necessarily people’s own residences, while they are being investigated), as further explained by Prof. Donald C. Clarke of George Washington Law in his blog here. Chen has completed his prison sentence and, at least based on public reports, he is not being held as part of an investigation for additional crimes. The current restrictions on the liberty of Chen and his family unfortunately highlight the limits of law as a constraint on government action in China today.


China’s Good Samaritan Debate

The death yesterday of a toddler after a hit-and-run has fueled widespread debate in China over people’s willingness to jump in and help those in need. Footage from a surveillance camera shows the child being passed by eighteen people and even being ran over by a second vehicle before a woman went to help her. Chinese websites are inundated with comments with, for example, the popular video-sharing website Youku currently at 455 pages.

The tragedy connects to a larger discussion in China regarding disincentives to being a Good Samaritan. In September, the death of an elderly man after no pedestrians stopped to help him resurrected discussion of a 2006 case where a court ordered a man to pay compensation to a woman who falsely accused him of causing her fall. As reported by the China Daily, “The verdict angered the public, who compared the judge to well-known ‘muddle-headed judges’ in ancient China.” In a 2009 article, Yunxiang Yan, an anthropologist at UCLA, analyzed reported cases where people who attempted to help found themselves being accused of wrongdoing. Prof. Yan argues that “despite its rare occurrence, extortion of Good Samaritans constitutes a heavy blow to social trust, compassion, and the principle of moral reciprocity.”

Looking deeper into Chinese history, the debate echoes the words of Mencius who expressed his positive view of human nature through the parable of a man watching a child fall into a well: “Suppose a man were, all of a sudden, to see a young child on the verge of falling into a well. He would certainly be moved to compassion, not because he wanted to get in the good graces of the parents, nor because he wished to win the praise of his fellow villagers, nor yet because he disliked the cry of the child” (Mencius 2A:6). However, Mencius cautioned that people often fail to act in a benevolent manner because of external factors that interfere with cultivation of innate virtue.


Celebrating the Elements of Style…and Tollbooths

Teaching a course that satisfies the ABA’s “rigorous writing experience” has caused me to pause and remember the following exhortation from my mother, an eighth-grade English teacher: “Bad grammar is like spinach between your teeth: No one hears what you’re saying because they are staring at the spinach.” In hopes of cutting down on the amount of spinach, I have required that students purchase The Bluebook and The Redbook, which admittedly starts to sound a bit like a legal Dr. Seuss rhyme. I have also encouraged them to purchase Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style, with its enthusiastic support for brevity, the active voice, and the serial comma. I would greatly appreciate thoughts on other resources that professors have found helpful when trying to insert writing skills into an upper-level seminar, especially when facing tight time constraints.

Thinking of instilling a love of words in younger generations, a delightful piece in this week’s New Yorker on the fiftieth birthday of The Phantom Tollbooth brought back fond memories of reading about King Azaz the Unabridged who held a banquet where guests literally ate their words. The author, however, rightly points out one concern about the book’s durability: “We’re getting rid of all our tollbooths! Kids are going to read the book and ask, Yeah, but what’s a tollbooth?”


Republic of China Centennial

Thunder Tiger

As a companion to my earlier post on the PRC’s celebration of National Day, today Taiwan is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of China. As part of the festivities for “double ten” day (i.e., tenth day of the tenth month), the parade in Taipei showcased Taiwan’s military forces, including a flight demonstration by the Thunder Tiger Aerobatics Team.

Unlike the PRC where people with legal training are only beginning to make inroads into the top leadership, Taiwan’s 2012 presidential race is between two lawyers: incumbent Ma Ying-jeou (Kuomintang Party) and challenger Tsai Ing-wen (Democratic Progressive Party). Indeed, both are also U.S.-trained: Ma at NYU & Harvard, and Tsai at Cornell.

Not only are Taiwan’s politicians influenced by American law, so is Taiwan’s legal system. Since the end of martial law in the late 1980s, Taiwan has incorporated American adversarial-leaning reforms into what has traditionally been a system that more closely resembles those seen in Japan and Continental Europe. Reforming the criminal justice system remains a work in progress, as I wrote about in a 2009 article. If the fascinating legal-transplant/translation story isn’t enough reason to visit Taiwan, the mangoes certainly are. I highly recommend planning visits to coincide with the summer mango season.

Read More


Chinese Currency Debate on Senate Floor

Today, the Senate is continuing debate on the Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act of 2011,which would impose tariffs on exports from countries with undervalued currencies. Although the word “China”‘ does not appear in the text, the bill is clearly directed at the Renminbi’s (RMB) exchange rate. Fueling tensions, the Financial Times reports that China has just put the breaks on the RMB’s appreciation against the dollar (subscription required to access article).

China has gradually relaxed its tight grip on the exchange rate, with the Congressional Research Service reporting, “From July 2005 to July 2008, China’s central bank allowed the RMB to appreciate against the dollar by about 21%.”  There is general agreement among economists that the value of the RMB is artificially low. There is less agreement with respect to how much of an impact this has on the U.S. economy and how the U.S. should respond. Paul Krugman has singled out China in arguing that the U.S. “should take action against countries that are keeping their currencies undervalued, and thereby standing in the way of a much-needed decline in our trade deficit.” Opponents of the proposed legislation, such as a coalition of business groups, see the bill as ineffective and even counterproductive. For a thoughtful discussion of the issues, including an analysis of the domestic Chinese context, see Arthur Kroeber’s article for Foreign Policy titled, “The Renminbi: The Political Economy of a Currency.” In particular, China’s export-friendly exchange rate policy is being reconsidered because an undervalued exchange rate can create inflationary pressures at home.

In case any of you are wondering what “Renminbi” means, it literally means the “people’s currency.” The word “yuan,” which is often used in reporting on China’s currency, is the base unit, like “dollar” in the United States. While George Washington only has his face on the one dollar bill, Mao Zedong is pictured on all notes.