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Professor Flora Sapio

Three Days of China-Related Events at Penn State – March 12-15, 2018

The 19th Congress of the Communist Party of  China (18-24 October 2017) marked a new stage in  the developmental process of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, and in the history of the People’s Republic of China.

As General Secretary Xi Jinping’s Though on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era begins to unfold, all those who are dealing with China or with Chinese enterprises in processes of:

  • digitalization, artificial intelligence, and innovation
  • urban development and smart cities
  • trade and investment
  • education
  • country to country relations

find themselves haunted by the most diverse questions. Sometimes, separating stereotyped representations of China from the facts on the ground can be difficult. Yet the ability to distinguish  robust predictive approaches from guess-work, facts from fiction, reality from stereotypes, has become a key asset for all those who are interacting with China.

The Penn State Community is fortunate to have been able to bring together a number of China experts to comment upon the dawn of a New Era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.

The broader theme of the events to be held at Penn State from March 13 to March 15, 2018 will be “The Vanguard Acts: A Focus on China at the Dawn of Its New Era”. Events to be held will include:

  • A Symposium on Rule of Law and Governance in China at Home and Abroad
  • A Primer on China in the New Era
  • A Rountable on Socialist Rule of Law and Governance After the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China

More information will be made available soon. In the meantime, all those interested can consult the English version of concepts notes for each event here:

The Chinese version of the concept notes follow.

中国的法治与国家治理:国内外两个视角
2018年3月13日圆桌会议概念文件

这场圆桌会议邀请了一批来自中国、欧洲和美国的学者在发展社会主义法治和国家治理的语境下深入具体地讨论中共十九大对于中国与世界的进一步影响。近来有关这一议题的探讨与研究表明,在对外关系不断发展的背景下,中国在对内和对外政策上都有了采取了重大调整。本次会议上,与会者将讨论中国内部纪律体系的发展,其规则和结构,以及以一带一路为主体的对外倡议。同时,会议也将讨论在新时代背景下,国家治理中大数据管理、人工智能与算法的应用等有关话题。

十九大报告中,习近平强调了发展新时代下中国特色社会主义的基本方略,主要包括坚持共产党对一切工作的的领导,坚持以人为本,坚持全面体制改革,提出新的发展愿景,肯定人民主权原则,治理与构建法治为基础的治理体系,坚持社会主义核心价值观,坚持通过发展提升人民生活水平,促进人与自然之间的和谐,追求国家整体安全,在一国两制原则下推动国家统一,构建人类命运共同体,对中国共产党实行更加全面、严格的管理。

这些都表明了中国法治和国家治理途径在其目标、形式和范围等方面的性质和特点。改革的三个方面引人注目。第一个方面涉及到国家体制结构的改革和应用这些机构进行民主治理的方式。这不仅仅在于共产党所发挥的作用,更在于共产党与全国人大和人民政协的相互作用与各自的权力行使。第二个方面设计合法性的性质。这既体现在宪法的意义上,也体现在以中国共产党的基本路线制定的总体规范纲领为指导的政府政治和行政部门的组织原则和管辖范围之上。这里也涉及到通过加强反腐败工作,即以中央纪律检查委员会的工作为中心来维护治理的完整性。第三点涉及这些变化与宏观经济政策的耦合,这里所指的宏观经济政策既关注国家发展,也关注中国在全球体系中的地位。从这个意义上讲,中国的法治、发展和治理体系都可以被理解为在中国对外的双边关系和在国际社会中上定位中国的目标。

这一广泛的目标和意义表明了中国共产党十九大报告所设想的改革有着雄心勃勃愿景,同时也提出了中国共产党十九大报告所采取的全面改革措施。国家、社会、经济、政治和文化都被视为一个深度有机融合的整体的发展。它还表明,在这种全面的发展和改革中,旧的治理方式也可能被抛弃。在公共治理中以法律和行政法规为代表的的传统技术和模式将随着许多私营治理方式的发展而得到加强。这些发展包括数据驱动的算法结构的实时评估机制,通过这些机制而分配奖励和惩罚可能被用于针对行为目标的激励。这些趋势与西方类似的改革相似,但具有中国特色,值得我们多加观察和思考。

本次圆桌会议的与会者将对上述重要发展趋势进行讨论,并且在此基础上思考这些新发展将如何在中国国内国外两个层面的的法律、政治和经济改革中发挥作用。这次的会议室建立在我们去年十一月举办的有关十九大影响的圆桌会议的基础之上的。

会议将在2018年3月18日上午十点,宾夕法尼亚州立大学大学公园校区Lewis Katz Building 232 举办,欢迎大家亲身来到会场或者是通过现场直播和网上问答渠道参与我们讨论,具体的圆桌信息将发布在会议网站上。

中国的法治与国家治理:国内与国外两个视角
2018年3月15日, 会议概念文件

众所周知,中国已经成为全球经济活动的主要动力。尽管中国现在主要是一个商品生产者,但其也正迅速成为全球市场中重要的服务提供者。中国在全球范围内的投资是推动全球生产发展的一个重要动力。在这一背景下,经济扩张已经成为中国国际影响力的衡量标准,这一点在经济和贸易方面表现尤为明显。中国正尝试通过一系列措施将其扮演的这一重要角色制度化,一个新的面向中国的多边主义似乎正在形成。一个典型的例子是,中国正寻求通过“一带一路”倡议在全球产业链上留下不可抹去的中国印记。同样越来越重要的是,中国正通过亚洲基础设施投资银行来打造其作为主权国家中为基础设施发展制定发展战略的领导者地位。

中国的经济体系已经初步上升为了一个模式,这一点对发展中国家来说尤为如此。这种模式将国家指导(政治决策圈的领导)和受国家引导的市场力量结合在一起,二者间的互动创造了有所指导的经济增长,也适应了国家的政治目标。这种模式之所以吸引发展中国家的原因在于其赋予了国家实现经济自治的手段,这些国家往往发现自己的经济发展很大程度上是由外部力量所控制的。这一模式建立在三大部门之上,首先是即强大的国家部门,它能够提供以目标(各种可能的经济活动中的宏观选择)为形式的领导和保证经济活动合理运行的规则;其次是一个强大的国有企业部门,国家通过这一部门管理市场上的经济活动;最后是强大的市场,私有的市场活动将在这里配合或补充国家的活动。

比上述事实更不为人知的是,中国不遗余力对一套规范性的规则体系的构建也助推了中国经济走上世界的领导地位,这样一套体系能“把权力关进制度的笼子”并且让领导权依据规范而行使。发展中国治理中的生产力的根本目标是打造一个规则基础以便于在国家和运转和管理过程中,官员能够根据规范和规则行使其自由裁量权,即“身先垂范,遵守党章党规,遵守党的政治规范和纪律,永远记住党的使命,为党员树立好榜样”。这些目标对任何一种社会组织都是适用的。实际上,这些目标在中国政治原则的语境之中创造了稳定性和秩序性。制定这些目标的目的并不仅仅聚焦于对行为的监管,它也关注对市场的监管—在当前的背景下,更重要的是对社会、经济信息市场(数据和评估)的监管,以及通过监管来保护交流渠道与国家政治框架一致的正当性从而防止互联网谣言泛滥。

中国已经尝试发展一套具有连贯性和自治性特点的社会主义法治和社会主义法制理论,也就是要为国家、经济和社会依据“法律面前人人平等”原则的运作提供概念层面和操作层面的基础。这意味着从中国治理的根本政治原则中衍生开来并在政治、经济和社会核心体系的运作系统中将这些规则制度化。社会主义法治之所以与众不同的原因就在于其中国特色。这既涉及到中国文化,又涉及到国家运转的政治体系—基于先锋政党的领导,这种领导对于国家行政机构所采取的运营决策来说至关重要,并且被视作非公部门活动的引导。对于西方人来说,社会主义法治的独特特征似乎聚焦于国家的司法关系。西方对国家宪法的角色和作用、政治权威及领导的分配等的观念也与社会主义法治大相径庭。

2017年十月的十九大报告强调了中国治理结构的发展。十九大为治理结构的发展勾勒出了一个雄心勃勃的规划以迎接当前世界所带来的挑战。这一新发展将由习近平提出的新时代中国特色社会主义思想引导(这也是2017年10月18日十九大报告的主题)。

十九大之后,中国正昂首阔步对其治理体系和实施进行改革。2017年10月24日,中国共产党全国代表大会通过了修改党章的决议并立即生效。这一修订象征着中国政治宪章演进中的一个重大发展,定义了党的章程、组织、组织系统、党员、党员权利与义务、党的纪律等等。2017年12月28日,中共中央政治局宣布了其修改国家宪法的提议。

总的来说,这些改变都标志着中国的崛起将不仅仅是在经济层面,而是越来越多地表现在法治和治理结构的发展上,包括国家层面上更高法律规则。因此,了解包括宪政和中国在对国际社会中关系合法性的参与模式在内的中国治理是有必要的。这些改变也要求正在构建中的治理的原则可能不仅仅将影响国家与国家间的关系,也将影响在正在崛起的多边国际结构中中国参与方和其全球伙伴之间的关系。

这次会议希望能够将上述趋势放在一起讨论。与来自美国、中国和欧洲的学者一起,本次会议的参与者们会讨论中国治理当前发展的内部和外部影响。与会者们将在中国政治和政府的规范性框架中,从许多不同角度探讨上述发展趋势。这次讨论也将考虑这些新发展对中国国家和私人行为体在全球层面的影响,在政治、经济和社会层面上,中国还将与这些行为体进一步互动。本次会议将在2018年3月15日下午于宾夕法尼亚州立大学Lewis Katz Building 110举办,整场会议提供现场直播和全程录像。

Part 2 – Form and Function in International Human Rights Instruments. An Attempt to Work Constructively on John Knox’s Vision on Human Rights and the Environment

This is the second part of a commentary I published on February 7, as a follow-up to a commentary on the Draft Guidelines on Human Rights and the Environment co-authored with Larry Catà Backer.

The goal of the first part of the commentary was to engage constructively with the work of Professor John Knox (UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment). This goal called for going beyond the merits of what have now become the Framework Principles on Human Rights and the Environment (Draft here). One not too far day, the Framework Principles may become a binding treaty.

The process whereby a set of non-binding principles (which already exist at the time of writing, and can be adopted by all those with a stake in protecting the environment) becomes a treaty  is a process involving the relationship between what, in the first part of my post, I called “form” and “function”. This is a much broader relationship that highlights a fault-line running beneath the edifice of public international law, and which may (or may not) undermine it.

In an attempt to better understand this latter point, in the first part of this post I reframed the question of “what the state is now” as the question of “what government is”. Such a reframing was in my opinion necessary to better identify one of the “contradictions” in international law. I further divided the question of “what government is” into the two-fold question of:

(a) when a government is effectively recognized as a government;

(b) what is the minimum common denominator of governments at this point in history

In this second part, I am providing a tentative answer to both questions. Considered within their respective yet inter-dependent domains (international law, transnational governance) these questions prove how:

(a) the structures generating and sustaining international law are inherently customary – hence much closer in nature to non-binding instruments than to binding ones;

(b) the entirely voluntary, non-binding, flexible nature of transnational instruments is the key elements allowing transnational regulation (UN system and human rights law included) to exist and develop;

(c) an emerging trend towards the transformation of non-binding principles into binding treaties would perhaps not be fully coherent with the very logic of transnational regulation.

Under this logic, all governance processes rely on non-binding tools and instruments. In a sense, the willingness of all stakeholders, not just government to maintain behaviors coherent with their stated committments has become more important than the outward forms of regulation.

Part 1 – When is a government a government?

The entire edifice of transnational regulation is premised on a hierarchical arrangement. Within the UN system, states exist at the top of a pyramid of highly heterogeneous actors – enterprises, individuals, and NGOs, and act through their governments. But, when is a government a government? To this question, which is a fundamental question, no international legally binding instrument provides an answer. In practice, a government is recognized as a government through a relational act performed by one or more of its peers. Outwardly, this relational act can be classified through well-known taxonomies. In any case, such an act is a voluntary act perfomed outside of any treaty-based obligation. The recognition of a state is the

manifestation of the recognizing government’s subjective opinion on the legal status of the government in question

A similar line of reasoning applies to enterprises and NGOs. NGOs and enterprises are some of the entities contributing to the making of international law through their participation to a variety of fora, but

when an NGO is effectively recognized as an NGO?

No binding instrument provides an answer to this question. The existence of NGOs is accepted a matter of fact (see art. 71 here). Accreditation is a mechanism that regulates the participation of an NGO to international fora (see II.18 here), and as such has no bearings on the existence of an NGO.

Despite the increasingly important role NGOs have come to play in international law, the matter is not regulated. At the very basis of the existence of an NGO, however, one finds an entirely voluntary act whereby a group of persons decide to pursue a common aim.

It seems that acts performed on an entirely voluntary basis, outside of the codified structures of international law, are sufficient to bring into existence two of its most important actors at least. It may be objected that these voluntary acts must be supported by a conduct coherent with the stated goals and intentions of both entities. In fact, several means exist to assess whether UN organs, governments, and NGOs, behave coherent with their stated goals. But, I will discuss those in a moment.

By this point of my comment, my position in the “treaties versus non-binding principles” debate should be sufficiently clear. The dychotomy between treaties and non-binding principles is only a seeming dychotomy

The actors and structures that sustain the edifice of international law, as well as the making of treaties, are all born out of unilateral, voluntary manifestations of will taking place outside of the entire gamut of written, codified norms. If those manifestations of will were regulated by binding documents, perhaps the UN system as it exists now would be eroded, and slowly collapse. Given the absence of a single transnational entity endowed with a measures of power superior of those of national states, such a document would lack legitimacy in the eyes of most if not all governments.

If this is true, then:

(a)  the very foundation of the UN system relies on custom, and custom is what keeps the UN system alive;

over time, several customary practices have been codified into binding treaties, while several others have been summarized into non-binding documents, principles, etc. This is particularly true of human rights.

The foundational document that summarizes the pre-existing rights of man, has given life to several binding treaties, but it can maintain its moral and generative force thanks to its non-binding form. An emerging trend, in matters of human rights and environmental protection, that saw the reversal of this established practice would lead to an erosion of the established practices that sustain not just human rights law, but the UN system as well.

(b) more effective than the form of binding treaties, is an autonomous decision to commit oneself to a course of conduct, and to consistently follow it over time;

Since the time when Mare Liberum was authored, these autonomous decisions have driven the development of transnational law. They have given life to each one of the poles of transnational regulations that exist beyond the UN system.

(c) the transition from ‘principles’ to binding treaties is not an obliged path;

In light of the above, arguments in favor of institutionalizing a transition from non-binding principles to a binding treaty could at least try to prove that an autonomous decision to bind oneself to a certain conduct is always less reliable and less effective in practice:

– when taken by a group of individuals acting on behalf of  citizens, than when taken by a group of individuals acting on behalf of shareholders;

– when taken by those who directly keep the very conducts a binding treaty attempts to govern, than when taken by those who enjoy a possibility to indirectly influence decisions made by actors other than themselves

An evaluation of the respective merits of non-binding principles and binding treaties should be based on pragmatic considerations.The word ‘pragmatic’ does not carry a negative connotation. Being ‘pragmatic’ does not mean rejecting shared values, or subordinating shared values to materialistic goals and objectives. Being pragmatic means relying on problem-solving and lesson-learning mechanisms, strategies, tool-kits etc. coherent with reality.

Part 2 – Hybrid governance as the minimum common denominator of governments

The dynamic whereby governance exists beyond the more limited domestic dimension, and relies on hybrid transnational networks of public, private, for-profit and not-for profit entities is well-known and needs not be repeated here. This is the minimum common denominator of all governments across the globe at this point in history.

What is worth asking  is the role a binding treaty, or any other instrument addressing domestic governments, but not all the other actors in transnational governance would play within hybrid governance networks.

A question closely related to this one is whether mechanisms solidly rooted within domestic governance systems, but roughly similar across jurisdictions, may provide more effective solutions in environmental governance than binding treaties. As I have observed elsewhere, the emergence of hybrid domestic and transnational governance regimes has highlighted the structural limitations of binding instruments as such. It has also resulted in the creation new means to monitor actors’ behavior, and assess compliance with their stated committments.

The means used to monitor and assess compliance with international human rights instruments share several similiarities with other regimes of monitoring and assessment, but with at least two key differences:

(a) they have, in a sense, been borrowed from the domain of hybrid governance, rather than the other way around. 

This point is significant, because normally the making of international instruments – whether they are binding or not – follows the opposite process: existing practices are researched, surveyed, and documented. Then, they are brought to a higher level of abstraction, and summarized into documents that do not create any new obligations on states.

(b) for the most part, they employ concepts, methodologies and approaches that are not codified

The most striking example is, perhaps, the entire discourse on ‘good practices‘. In his February newsletter, the Special Rapporteur makes several references to ‘good practices‘. In this, he merely follows the established approach whereby consistency with the existing ways of doing things relies not on the brute force of the state and its legislation, but on methods which are generally accepted as superior to all existing alternatives because they produce better results in practice.

This far, the Special Rapporteur has documented more than 100 good practices in environmental protection. These are presented on the Environmental Rights Database: Good Practices in the Use of Human Rights to Protect the Environment.

The analysis of each one of these good practices and their implementing actors goes well beyond the scope of this post. It is to be noticed how:

(a) the generally shared concept of good practices, or best practices, as being superior to all existing alternatives ironically points out the subordinate role of binding instruments. If binding instruments were the only possible way to achieve certain goals, then practices superior to existing alternatives (treaties included) would perhaps not exist;

(b) good practices involve and are created by multinational enterprises and, generally speaking, all the other actors binding documents don’t speak to;

(c) good practices can become the object of compilations, but not of binding instruments per se, because they are created by actors falling outside of the purview of such binding instruments

The fact good practices operate through roughly horizontal networks, rather than top-down (as binding treaties do) perhaps points out not so much to the fragmentation of international law, but to the inability of the binding treaty as a legal form to keep up with emerging trends.

Are we witnessing the slow demise of public international law as the privileged tool of transnational regulation?

Professor Sapio is the holder of a research position at the University “Orientale” in Naples, Italy. The views and opinions expressed on this website are her personal views only.

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