There’s rarely a day when China isn’t featured prominently in the news. Once upon a time, most of that coverage was about China’s rise out of poverty. Now, however, greater attention is being given to some decidedly negative developments. These include the country’s growing economic problems, its systematic violations of religious liberty, or the efforts to suppress protestors in Hong Kong.
In one sense, the theme linking all these problems is that of authoritarianism, verging on totalitarianism. That in turn points to another, perhaps deeper challenge facing China which as recently highlighted by the law professor Adam J. Macleod in a Public Discourse essay entitled “Piracy, Protests, and the Problem of China.” Putting it bluntly, Macleod argues that “The Chinese government is lawless.”
By that, Macleod doesn’t mean that there are no laws in China. “The Chinese ruling party’s lawlessness,” he writes, “is not for a lack of posited laws.” But, Macleod states, “Law does not come only from governments. Contra positivists and legal pragmatists, to adhere to one’s own regulations and to obtain the sanction of courts of last resort does not make a nation’s actions lawful.”
Macleod’s point is that “the problem of China is a problem of tyranny: the ruling Communist Party views itself as above the law.” China’s government does not, for instance, consider itself bound by the treaties into which it freely enters, let alone what’s called “the law of nations:” that is, “the universal law of civilized people by ancient custom and by necessity,” “determinations of natural law,” and “fundamental, fully-specified universal duties not to commit intrinsic wrongs.”
China’s lawlessness is especially manifest in the way the Chinese government approaches economic life. According to Macleod,
China’s most egregious economic adventures are also violations of basic law. Chinese companies that are probably controlled by the Communist Party steal trade secrets worth billions of dollars, which can be used to control international communications and Internet connectivity for years to come. By one estimate, twenty percent of American companies have suffered intellectual property theft by hands in China. Intellectual property is property. Developed nations and nations that want to develop economically recognize the importance of protecting the fundamental rights of innovators. China’s seizure of intellectual property should be understood as trespass and theft. The Chinese government takes what by right belongs to others, without whose creative and risk-laden labors the innovations and technologies that make economic growth possible would not exist.
Read the whole article. For my money, Macleod’s piece is one of those rare analysis that gets to the root of how and why the Chinese regime behaves the way that it does today.
Featured image: Andrew Mercer [CC BY-SA 4.0]