President Xi Jinping has called for a “coordinated approach” to advance the socialist “rule of law” to better safeguard Chinese interests, including in legal cases involving foreign parties.
He made the call at a two-day meeting of top Communist Party leaders in Beijing that concluded on Tuesday.
“[We] must take a coordinated approach to promote the rule of law at home and in matters involving foreign parties, demanding efforts to better safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests,” Xi told the meeting, according to official news agency Xinhua.
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“[We] must strengthen our mindset about rule of law, [learn how to] apply it so [we] can effectively handle our challenges, and guard against risks,” he said. “Besides, [we should] employ different means such as legislation, law enforcement and the judiciary in our struggle so [we can] resolutely defend our national sovereignty, dignity and core interests.”
Xi also said a “high-quality team of professionals with both integrity and ability should be fostered for legal work”.
Experts said the meeting focused on legal governance issues and introduced “Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law” – part of the leader’s broader political philosophy that underscores his and the party’s dominance in all aspects of Chinese society.
They also said Xi’s speech suggested Beijing could be more willing to engage with foreign countries on issues involving international law.
Qin Qianhong, a law professor with Wuhan University, said the speech was more a symbolic elevation of Xi’s status than about new policies, since much of it was already set out in party directives and rules.
“[It] was basically a systematic collection of what [Xi] has said about the law since the 18th Communist Party Congress [in 2012],” Qin said.
He said legal scholars who work closely with the leadership had sought to promote Xi’s theory on the rule of law, which stresses loyalty to the party, and its basic tenets had not changed much over the years.
“This is another manifestation of [Xi’s] power and ideological authority [in the party],” Qin said.
“Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law” follows the leader’s other political theories on national defence, the environment, economy, development and foreign policy.
According to Xinhua, the meeting concluded with a long to-do list, from improving legal education to strengthening legislation on technology and biosecurity, and cracking down on organised crime.
Chinese leaders have maintained that the country must tread carefully on the socialist path when it comes to rule of law, insisting that the China model is different from the Western notion where judicial independence is integral.
Xi again made clear that difference in his address on Tuesday, calling for all members of China’s legal community to “ensure loyalty to the party, the country, the people and the law” – in that order.
According to Liang Yunxiang, an international law expert with Peking University, Xi’s speech also suggested that Beijing recognises it is at a disadvantage compared to developed countries in areas involving international law.
“China said it did not recognise the South China Sea ruling, but it was a last resort because it could not win the legal battle,” he said, referring to the 2016 decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that invalidated Beijing’s expansive claims to the disputed waters. Beijing stayed out of the entire legal process and rejected the ruling.
“It became clear at that point that China needed to learn more about international law and train more talent in international law so it could use legal tools to defend its interests and sovereignty,” he said.
With Xi’s endorsement, Liang said Beijing was likely to pour more resources into training legal talent and getting Chinese professionals into global organisations like the United Nations.
Li Xiaobing, an associate professor at Nankai University’s law school in Tianjin, agreed. “It would add to China’s toolbox for tackling international disputes beyond diplomatic means,” he said.
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