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Deans from Leading China, U.S. Law Schools Agree to Collaborate to Improve Ties, Legal Education in China

July 07, 2011

Summit between nine U.S and 10 China law deans produces statement supporting the need for expanded cooperation and ensuring the integrity of the legal process

Sino-US Law Dean Summit
Penn Law Dean Michael Fitts and State Councilor Liu Yandong

Following an unprecedented summit on June 20-21 in Beijing between deans from leading law schools in the U.S. and China, participants in the first Sino-U.S. Deans Summit issued a joint statement outlining shared principles, including recognition of and support for the rule of law, and the objective of establishing ongoing two-way collaboration between top U.S. and China law schools. 

The Summit focused on the present state and future needs of legal education in both countries, the role of law schools in society and in building the rule of law, and modes of collaboration among law schools to support academic and institutional goals. The deans agreed to form a working group with five deans from each side to develop new programs that will foster multilateral exchanges between law schools, and to explore new initiatives that focus on substantive areas of law such as public health, the environment, and leadership.

The U.S. deans were organized by Michael Fitts, dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In addition to the Summit sessions the nine U.S. participants and their Chinese counterparts met for over an hour with State Councilor Liu Yandong, the senior China government official responsible for education and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s counterpart for the Sino-US People-to-People exchange. 

The Summit was convened by Fitts at the suggestion of then-U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who saw it as an important forum for Chinese and American leaders in law and higher education to come together on the basis of shared values and interests.

The joint statement issued by the American and Chinese law deans noted that they:

• recognize and support the rule of law;
• agree on the importance of promoting the integrity of the legal profession in the U.S. and China;
• agree to discuss mechanisms for future cooperation by establishing a joint committee to discuss and develop ways to move forward.

“This was an incredibly valuable set of meetings,” said Fitts. “All of our country’s law schools have engaged in various efforts at globalization in one form or another with many countries, including China, but the size and speed of economic and legal change in China of late tests all of our experiences and thinking.   The Summit allowed us to focus on where the legal relationships with, and in, China are likely to evolve for all of our institutions over the near and far term.”

“The Summit was an important first step,” stated Wang Zhenmin, dean of Tsinghua Law School. “We look forward to building on this foundation to strengthen legal education and exchange between the United States and China as well as the rule of law and the legal profession.”

Chinese media reports highlighted the Summit’s contribution to strengthening ties between the United States and China and the importance of training legal personnel and fostering other legal cooperation projects.

During the summit the deans from China focused on ways in which legal education is able to confer both substantive knowledge of law and its implementation, as well as how it fosters analytical thinking that lawyers apply to a range of social and economic questions. They noted that China has moved to a new stage in its legal development, focused on implementation and realizing law’s meaning in society.  More than once, the Chinese side inquired about the high number of American public and private sector leaders who started out in law school.

The American deans explored the rationale for internationalization and expressed appreciation of the significance that robust global linkages have played in the rapid scale-up of law schools in China. A number of participants agreed that internationalization will be a game-changer for law schools, requiring American schools to understand law as a sociological and dynamic force as much across and beyond borders as well as within them.

Legal development in China has been robust over the past thirty years, but there remain serious concerns about insufficient protection of core civil and political rights, due process and judicial independence.  As they departed China, the US Summit participants welcomed the news that high-profile activist and artist, Ai Weiwei, was released from detention and that Hu Jia was able to return home to his wife several days later.

The U.S. law deans also met with U.S. embassy staff as well as Tung Chee Hwa, the former Chief Executive of the Hong Kong, and Gao Xiqing, the head of the China Investment Corporation (the PRC’s sovereign wealth fund).

Sino-US Law Dean Summit

List of China deans:

• Fu Zitang, President, Southwest University of Political Science and Law
• Ji Weidong, Shanghai Jiaotong University KoGuan Law School
• Han Dayuan, Renmin University of China Law School
• Liu Ningyuan, East China University of Political Science and Law
• Wang Zhenmin, Tsinghua Law School
• Xiao Yongping, Wuhan University Law School
• Xu Chongli, Xiamen University Law School
• Xue Gangling, Dean of Law School of Chinese University of Political Science and Law
• Yao Jianzong, Jilin University Law School
• Zhang Shouwen, Peking University Law School

List of U.S. deans:

• Evan Caminker, University of Michigan Law School
• Chris Edley, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law
• JoAnne Epps Temple University Law School
• Michael Fitts, University of Pennsylvania Law School
• Larry Kramer, Stanford University Law School
• Paul Mahoney, University of Virginia Law School
• Robert Post, Yale Law School
• Michael Schill, University of Chicago Law School
• William Treanor, Georgetown University Law Center