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“From Unquiet to Uncertainty”: A Chinese reporter on Rule of Law in America


CHEN Xiaodong , A U.S.-Based reporter for The Legal Daily, China’s State-run newspaper on legal affairs, wrote a reflection on the state of U.S. law in 2016. In the current diplomatic and domestic political climate, it is no surprise that the tone is critical, and frankly there is much to be critical of in the U.S. these days.

Mr. Chen notes that in 2016, the U.S. has continuously been rocked by breaking news, including:

  1. More Attacks on Police: Noting the increased in police deaths in the line of duty, including ambushes in Baton Rouge and Dallas; citing ABC and connecting the attacks to violent law enforcement.
  2. More hate crimes: Noting a 6% national increase and a 50% increase in New York City, with Muslims and homosexuals being primary victims. (Citing Federal Bureau of Statistics)
  3. “Further revelations into the unfairness of the U.S. justice system” : Saying that Chinese-American police officer Peter Liang’s conviction for the shooting of an unarmed man was widely viewed as making Officer Liang a scapegoat as there were no prosecutions or no convictions in a number of similar or more egregious incidents. (no citation).
  4. Privacy and Security: Mentioning the standoff between the DOJ and Apple regarding the encryption on San Bernadino shooters personal phones, and saying that public opinion supports a legislated solution to balance the interests.
  5. Vacancy at SCOTUS: Suggesting that partisanship and U.S. political turmoil has dealt a blow to the authority of the Supreme Court by not even holding hearings on the confirmation of Merrick Garland.
  6. Uncertainty after the election: Noting that Mr. Trump’s pending inauguration and many campaign promises leaves a great many questions as to how any of these issues will be address going forward. This perhaps overstates the president’s role in some of these issues, but the candidates’ positions on these issues probably invites the conclusion that the president has more

It would probably be too much to ask that a summary article like this be done in best traditions of comparative law and draw conclusions about China’s legal system from the perspective of these U.S. problems, or offer a fresh outsider perspective on these well-known problems. It is still an interesting read, though, if not for its observations, for what they tell you about the observer through what is accentuated and what is downplayed. Peter Liang’s conviction, for example, was not what most would consider biggest indication of racially disparate treatment in the U.S. Justice system this year.

The privacy vs. security issue is one that might resonate anywhere, and foreign companies including Apple, are confronted with similar questions on data sharing in China under its new cybersecurity law as well as the U.S. The U.S.’s lack of a clear and uniform solution for this delicate balance of rights allowing a company to resist the government is a story that seems to justify the Chinese governments approach. There is no mention; however, of the flip side of this question, U.S. corporations like AT&T actually marketing of customer data to law enforcement, and public dissatisfaction. There are many new privacy issues to be resolved as legal systems struggle to catch up with the rise of information technology, and in fact China, the U.S. and others, continue to observe, learn from, and criticize the experiences of other countries.

The piece reads like the Human Rights Reports that the U.S. and China release on each other each year, but criticism of the U.S. system is always welcome and often well-deserved. Of course, nothing in the report could not be found in U.S. newspapers, and despite the critical tone, Mr. Chen actually has a gentler touch than American reporters. Ultimately, the most interesting thing about the article, is that someone wanted it written.


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Jeremy Daum is a Senior Fellow of the Yale Law School Paul Tsai China Center, based in Beijing, with over a decade of experience working in China on collaborative legal reform projects. His principal research focus is criminal procedure law, with a particular emphasis on protections of vulnerable populations such as juveniles and the mentally ill in the criminal justice system, and is also an authority on China’s ‘Social Credit System’. Jeremy has spoken about these issues at universities throughout China and in the U.S.; and has co-authored a book on U.S. Capital Punishment Jurisprudence for Chinese readers. He is also the founder and contributing editor of the collaborative translation and commentary site, dedicated to improving mutual understanding between legal professionals in China and abroad.
He translates, writes, edits, does web-design, graphic design, billing, tech support, and social media outreach for China Law Translate.

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