ChinaFile: China’s ‘Rule by Law’ Takes an Ugly Turn
The current crackdown on lawyers, though perhaps unprecedented, is anything but unexpected. Since Xi’s administration came into power in 2012, attacks on NGO groups, civil society activists, and media freedoms have impacted anti-discrimination groups, liberal intellectuals, and young feminists, and have resulted in arrests or detentions in the thousands. The ultimate goal appears to be the total prohibition of any possible outside checks and balances on the power of the Chinese Communist Party. The current crackdown is just the most recent manifestation.I can tell you exactly what the Chinese leadership is thinking: "Drain away!"
In a May 2015 speech at the Central United Front Work Conference, Xi highlighted overseas Chinese and especially Chinese students abroad as a new front for mobilization of Party interests. “Personnel studying abroad,” he said, constituted “a key element of the skilled workforce, as well as the new focus for a United Front.” That approach is wrongheaded. The state should recognize that having studied and lived abroad, students and scholars will carry different, sometimes dissenting, opinions with them back to China. The government’s stated refusal of Western values and its paranoia about foreign influence is seriously short-sighted and in the long run, may deprive China of opportunities to reform economically, politically, and legally.
One consequence of the recent detentions is likely to be the continued brain drain of young, justice-minded Chinese abroad. As a young feminist and aspiring advocate for Chinese civil rights, I find 2015 an ominous year to begin pursuing my Juris Doctorate (J.D.) at an American law school. While I’m not aware of statistics on the number of Chinese nationals going overseas to pursue J.D.s, I sense I’m part of a growing trend. Will our legal training in the United States impact the future of the Chinese legal landscape? Will young legal talents become interested in the separation of power, possible redistribution of power in the Chinese context, and perhaps even civil rights? Or will they just become yet another elite, depoliticized Chinese circle, collaborating with the state for personal status and material gain?