China committed to law-based rule, says its top legal official

China's Prosecutor-General Zhang Jun at the dialogue yesterday with the moderator, Solicitor-General and Senior Counsel Kwek Mean Luck. Mr Zhang says the difference between China's brand of rule of law and Western models is its one-party governance.
China's Prosecutor-General Zhang Jun at the dialogue yesterday with the moderator, Solicitor-General and Senior Counsel Kwek Mean Luck. Mr Zhang says the difference between China's brand of rule of law and Western models is its one-party governance.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

But its judicial system has adapted to suit current requirements

China has embarked on far-reaching legal as well as political reforms in recent years, and the resolve to be faithful to law-based governance is stronger than ever.

But the judicial system in China today is different from that in any other country - evolved over thousands of years across the country's tumultuous history - and adapted to its current requirements, said its top legal official yesterday.

"Whatever system (you choose) must befit your own country's needs. To force one system on others would be disastrous and it's the same for China," said China's Prosecutor-General Zhang Jun, who delivered the Attorney-General's Lecture in Mandarin at The Westin Singapore to an audience of 200 legal minds.

He was asked during a question-and-answer segment about the difference between China's brand of rule of law and Western models.

"The difference is in the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. We are a one-party governance," he said.

"We've received Western recognition. Otherwise, how can so many multinational corporations come to China? How can judicial officers from China go for overseas exchanges and vice versa?"

The Communist Party, he said in his speech, faces new challenges today after lifting much of the country out of poverty. With better living standards come higher expectations, and not just for material goods but also over matters of justice, the environment and legal protection.

"Some Western countries pointed fingers at us for human rights violations. We said, talk less. Our main priority was to meet our citizens' basic needs. Now that that has mostly been taken care of, we naturally have to turn to dealing with issues of justice and fairness."

CHANGE IN FOCUS

Some Western countries pointed fingers at us for human rights violations. We said, talk less. Our main priority was to meet our citizens' basic needs. Now that that has mostly been taken care of, we naturally have to turn to dealing with issues of justice and fairness.

MR ZHANG JUN, China's Prosecutor-General.

China has since 2014 embarked on an overhaul of its judicial system, promising greater transparency and protection of local courts from the influence of politicians, among other things. It has, since then, also reversed or amended thousands of judgments such as wrongful convictions, paying out compensation in some instances.

Observers point to President Xi Jinping's sweeping anti-graft campaign as one of the key motives for the reforms, and new powers presumably aimed at tackling this scourge have alarmed legal scholars and rights campaigners.

A powerful anti-corruption agency set up in March this year allows for the detention of suspects for up to six months with no legal access. This stoked fears of overreach after political critic Chen Jieren was arrested and denied legal counsel.

Mr Zhang, when asked about China's anti-graft movement, acknowledged that the campaign had been "very vigorous", and that party cadres and top officials are not spared.

"Many governments in the world would not have done so much to fight corruption. Some people say that if you don't fight corruption within the party, the party will collapse," he said. "But don't expect that the party can eradicate the problem within five, 10 or 15 years. That would be a naive thought. Even if you've had more than 100 years of law-based governance in any country, there would be corruption."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2018, with the headline 'China committed to law-based rule, says its top legal official'. Print Edition | Subscribe