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Chinese Law and Development: Implications for U.S. Rule of Law Programs

Since the 2008 global financial crisis, international financial flows have diversified to include a new epicenter: the People’s Republic of China (PRC). China has in recent years become the largest trading nation in the world, one of the largest investors, and the leading donor in international aid. Whereas much has been learned about China’s geo-economic footprint overseas through soft power, diplomacy, investment, data regimes, security operations, and related aspects of political economy, one fundamental aspect of the shifting landscape that has gone mostly unexamined (and undergirds almost all of the foregoing) is law. The question of how Chinese law facilitates China’s commercial and geo-strategic interests abroad is not just an academic one, but rather has significant policy relevance for both host states and the U.S. as a competing donor.

This project asks the following questions: What is the role of law in China’s global development? What are the implications for this role for host states, including low-income and middle-income countries? What does China’s approach to law mean for the U.S. and its legal assistance programs in those states? These questions have gained more relevance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Despite Beijing’s COVID-19 policies which are curtailing China’s overseas investment, Chinese cross-border programs will likely continue, even if recalibrated. Likewise, Beijing’s tacit support of Moscow reveals the PRC’s willingness to contravene a Western-formed consensus. China’s compliance with international law matters as China has positioned itself as a leader of the developing world, and is increasingly providing norms alternative to those of liberal democracies for states which comprise a significant portion of the globe.

Matthew Erie

Matthew S. Erie (J.D., Ph.D.) is an Associate Professor, Member of the Law Faculty, and Associate Research Fellow of the Socio-Legal Studies Centre at the University of Oxford. Professor Erie is trained in both law and anthropology and studies comparative Asian law, including the relationship between Anglo-American law and Asian law. Specifically, he has written on Chinese domestic law (e.g., property law, constitutional law, dispute resolution, and anti-corruption law), Islamic law (property, financial, personal status, and family law), and international law (e.g., dispute resolution, conflict of laws, and investment law). His work has either appeared in or is forthcoming in such journals as the Alabama Law ReviewAmerican Journal of Comparative LawHarvard International Law JournalAmerican Journal of International Law UnboundYale International Law JournalColumbia Journal of Transnational LawVirginia Journal of International LawLaw and Social Inquiry, and American Ethnologist. His first book, China and Islam: The Prophet, the Party, and Law (Cambridge University Press, 2016), is the first ethnographic study of the relationship between sharia and state law in China. His current research project “China, Law and Development,” funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant (€1.5 million), examines China’s approach to international law and the legal and regulatory systems of host states receiving Chinese capital. He is currently working on a number of book projects which grow out of this project.

He has taught law in the U.S., U.K., China, and Pakistan. At Oxford, he teaches Chinese law, international commercial arbitration in Asia, and empirical approaches to law. Professor Erie previously held academic positions at Princeton University and NYU Law School, and he was a visiting scholar at the National University Singapore Law Faculty. In the fall 2018, he was a Global Research Fellow in the Hauser Global Program of NYU Law School. He practiced law in the New York and Beijing offices of Paul Hastings LLP where he focused on corporate real estate transactions and white-collar investigations (e.g., FCPA). He holds degrees from Cornell University (Ph.D., Anthropology), University of Pennsylvania (J.D.), Tsinghua University Law School (LL.M.), and Dartmouth College (B.A). Professor Erie is a member of the New York Bar, a Fulbright Specialist, Co-Chair of the Asia-Pacific Interest Group of the American Society of International Law, and a Fellow of the Public Intellectual Program of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.