The Rule of Law Concept of the People’s Republic of China: A great challenge

Daniel Kempken*

Leer versión en español aquí.

China’s new Rule of Law Concept contradicts in central points the internationally established conception of the Rule of Law. The Chinese proposal stands for rule by law. These ideas should be countered in the international debate as well as by further promoting the current Rule of Law model in cooperation with partner countries and civil society. However, existing judicial dialogues and legal cooperation with China itself should also be continued in an appropriate manner. 

China’s five-year plan to build the rule of law (2020 – 2025) contains a conception of law that departs from the current UN conception of Rule of Law in fundamental respects and contradicts the interests of both the European Union and the United States. The main sticking points are the strict rejection of the separation of powers/independence of the judiciary, a completely different understanding of human rights, data, and privacy protection as well as democracy. Furthermore, digital systems are to replace the decisions of an independent judiciary in important areas.

The bottom line is that ruling by law is taking the place of the Rule of Law. In particular, the digital elements of the Chinese model are reminiscent of a 4.0 version of the dystopia of a total surveillance state described by George Orwell in his novel 1984.

According to the Five-Year Plan, the declared goal is to promote Chinese-style rule of law internationally. For this purpose, China is relying on participation in UN bodies, international cooperation, judicial dialogues, exchange programs and new arbitration procedures. This announcement should set alarm bells ringing. The concept adds a new dimension to legal development, as China challenges the existing international consensus on Rule of Law. 

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