Recently, China Law Translate published a translation of new Beijing rules encouraging citizens to report potential spies and collect sizable bounties. Unsurprisingly, this story fascinated many,and various news agencies around the world picked it up. Urging neighbors to keep an eye on each other, especially on foreign neighbors, invokes a paranoia-fueled dystopia — when it happens in China.
But what about somewhere like the U.S.? Look at the following statutory text:
(b) With respect to acts of espionage involving or directed at the United States, the Attorney General may reward any individual who furnishes information—
(1) leading to the arrest or conviction, in any country, of any individual or individuals for commission of an act of espionage against the United States;
(2) leading to the arrest or conviction, in any country, of any individual or individuals for conspiring or attempting to commit an act of espionage against the United States; or
(3) leading to the prevention or frustration of an act of espionage against the United States.
The Attorney General shall determine whether an individual furnishing information described in section 3071 is entitled to a reward and the amount to be paid.
Prior to 2002 amendment. section 3072 capped rewards at $500,000, and required presidential approval for rewards over $100,000; but presumably more flexibility was needed.
This is not to say that Beijing’s rules are OK just because the US has similar authority. It certainly isn’t meant to say that nobody should report critically on the Beijing rules just because the US has has similar authority. If something is worthy of criticism, or ridicule, it should always be pointed out, regardless of where it happens, or where the critic is from.
What I like most about comparative law research is that it makes me look back on my own system with fresh eyes. In learning about a foreign legal system, I reflect back on our own ways of doing things. Differences make me question whether our methods make sense. Just as commonly, I sometimes notice that a problem in the foreign system exists in our system as well– but it took the outsider perspective to draw my attention to it.
Putting aside preconceptions is hard, maybe impossible, but I hope that looking abroad is a way of helping escape bias, not reinforce it.