The Peaceful Rise of China
Ever since taking a course on the History of China during my final year of high school, I have been fascinated by this great country -- its past, present and future. China's "peaceful rise" is essential for stability, prosperity and security in the 21st Century. And I am eager to do what I can to help ensure that outcome.
I've been following this country for a long time, learning from wide reading and from myriad interactions with Chinese scholars and colleagues over the past 35 years. And for the past dozen years, I have been visiting China often.
My first visit to China was with my Pace colleague, Dick Ottinger who had been on the first Congressional delegation to visit Shanghai shortly after President Nixon went in 1972. It was amazing to see China as it was in 2005 - and through Dick's eyes, as it had been three decades before.
I've been back many times since. I went with Al Kritzer to Wuhan in 2007 for a conference on international commercial law that we organized with the famous University of Wuhan Institute of Private International Law. My paper on China's implementation of the UN Sales Convention (authored with Lachmi Singh) was published in the proceedings and then a more complete version in the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law with a Chinese-language version translated in the law review of the China University of Politics and Law.
I also went to Beijing and Shanghai with Jerome Cohen in 2010 -- a fascinating experience as he is something of a celebrity in that country. We brought a delegation of judges, lawyers and law professors to Beijing and Shanghai on behalf of the New York City Bar, to investigate the deteriorating position of lawyers in Chinese cities and to build meaningful relationships between our municipal bar and those of China's greatest cities. Upon our return, we published a hard-hitting report documenting the plight of rights lawyers and others who work on sensitive issues. Regrettably circumstances have further deteriorated since we issued the report. Apparently the leaders of China are leaning increasing back to regime security over individual liberty.
In 2012, I visited universities up and down the east coast, build new institutional relationships for Pace by giving presentations on the implementation of the UN Sales Convention in China as well on as on higher education in the US. I met many wonderful lawyers, students and professors. I retain those relationships today - thanks to the wonder of the internet and because we all work hard to stay in contact.
More recently I was overseeing the admissions office of New York University Shanghai (as well as Abu Dhabi). I made numerous trips to China, interviewed candidates for admission from around nearly every one of the country's 31 provinces, and learned much more about the the country's remarkably rich history and culture. Spending many weeks in Shanghai is different from visiting for a ten days at a time. I came to understand better the ebb and flows of traffic, of conversation and of life in that remarkable city. I've always loved the cuisines of China, but NYU my colleagues made sure to broaden and deepen my appreciation of them.
My career-long interest in the rise and fall of great powers has framed my approach to China during its self-proclaimed "peaceful rise." My concern that this process go smoothly has driven my efforts to promote the rule of law within Chinese and law international frameworks. It has encouraged me to recruit, teach and mentor diverse and capable Chinese students. And it underlies my scholarship on China's interpretation and implementation of international law.
These days I remained apprised of China issues by participating in the Winston Lord Roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Chaired by Jerome Cohen, this monthly meeting assembles the most knowledgable observers on issues related to Asia, the rule of law and US foreign policy. I also run my own monthly roundtable as Chair of the New York City Bar's Committee on Asian Affairs (also founded by Jerome Cohen). This work earned me an invitation to visit lawyers, law firms, law schools and to speak at the annual summit of the Elite China Legal Alliance (ECLA) in May 2015. I was struck by the determination of this group's diverse members to build a robust, meaningful and high-quality rule of law system throughout their home country.
In 2016, I visited China twice, once for three days and once for three weeks. In February, I had the privilege of chairing the dissertation defense committee of my former student, H.R.H. Saud Alhassan Saud Abdulaziz Al Saud, who had examined Forgiveness In A Comparative Legal Context: Islam And The Chinese Legal Traditions. Saud's work turned out so well that it is being published as a book. Along with the dean of Shanghai Jiaotong University's School of Law, Ji Weidong, I've contributed a preface. This project provides some important insights into two major legal systems.
My second visit to China in 2016 was far more extended, as I taught a short course on international law at the famed China Foreign Affairs University. Spending nearly three weeks in the capital city enabled me to get to know it and its people much more thoroughly. The hot topic in Beijing was the controversy arising out of competing territorial claims in the South China Sea, as an arbitral panel was set to rule on some of them involving the Philippines. Based on conversations with faculty, students, and a variety of other observers, I decided to contribute to a newspaper an essay on how great powers might receive unwelcome decisions from international tribunals. Hong Kong's South China Morning Post ran the piece while I was teaching the topic to future Chinese diplomat/lawyers. As the editor captioned it, I argued "political will, not an international court ruling, is the best hope for a solution to the conflicting territorial claims involving China and the Philippines".
For many in China, the pain and shame of the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century feel very real and present. So in addition to the older, more famous sights to see in the Beijing region, I made sure to see how they commemorate the experience of World War II. Near the Marco Polo Bridge, the Museum of the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression offers powerful documentation of China's suffering during this long, tragic conflict. I can't endorse all of its historical analysis, but the story is too terrible to take in properly without a visit to this enormous museum. Some 15 to 20 million Chinese died as a result of the war.
During the summer of 2018, I am teaching summer school at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. I am teaching international law, and the students are very interesting, so it's great fun.
I look forward to working with lawyers, scholars and others interested in promoting the peaceful rise of China, for many years to come. These certainly are interesting times!