Conference explores China’s role in international law

Few dispute China’s status as a major world player, but uncertainty reigns about the effect its distinct voice will have on the future of international law. A distinguished group of scholars will debate this topic on Wednesday, April 6 at the University of Chicago Law School.

The daylong symposium, “China and International Law,” will identify and discuss what China’s increasing influence means for the international legal system. The event is free and open to the public and will be held in the Law School’s Weymouth Kirkland Courtroom at 1111 E. 60th St. from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

“In terms of law, a lot of the attention has been on Chinese domestic legal development,” said Dali Yang, professor of political science, faculty director of the University of Chicago Center in Beijing and director of the Confucius Institute, which is sponsoring the event. “There has been much less attention on the international aspect. So this conference is really timely and important.”

“The rise of China is affecting everything about international society,” said Tom Ginsburg, professor at the Law School and an event organizer. “There is no reason that the law should be different. As the rise of China affects the global environment and the global economy, we should expect that China would become a global player in the international legal order as well.”

According to Ginsburg, China has been thus far a fairly conservative force in international law, tending to emphasize traditional doctrines of sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, much like 19th-century European states. Conference participants will debate whether that trend will persist or if China will evolve in the direction of the modern-day Europe, which now encourages a more robust role for international law.

The event will explore whether China will continue to rely on traditional international legal principles or work to change them to secure their own advantage. Panelists also will discuss Chinese attitudes toward how to deal with conflicts in the Middle East, its own territorial disputes, its emphasis on economic and social rights over individual civil liberties, and its international economic power as an industrial giant and a locus of investment.

Specific panel discussions include:

  • The rise of China and its impact on international relations
  • International human rights: Does China change human rights or does human rights law change China?
  • International law and regional/global security
  • China, the WTO and international economic law

The proceedings will be summarized in a post-conference report. In June, the Law School will be co-sponsoring another China-focused event with the Center in Beijing, sending several of its scholars to China to debate issues of property rights in China’s transformation.