daum1_GREG BAKERAFP via Getty Images_chinapolice Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

The Global Ambitions of Chinese Law

As China’s economic and political clout grows, so does its desire to expand the reach of its laws beyond its borders. The recent international outcry over China’s secret offshore police stations shows that Western democracies are unprepared to grapple with the implications of growing Chinese influence.

NEW HAVEN – A recent report by the NGO Safeguard Defenders about the existence of “secret Chinese police stations” in cities around the world, including New York, has sparked investigations in several European countries and attracted the attention of the FBI. But while these investigations aim to protect the rule of law from subversion, they also highlight how unprepared Western democracies are to grapple with China’s growing international influence.

In their eagerness to appear “tough on China,” Western media and government officials alike have demonstrated their inability – or perhaps unwillingness – to evaluate the Safeguard Defenders report, which is plagued by mistranslations and misunderstandings of Chinese and international legal norms. China’s rising power requires careful technical debate and strategizing rather than crude populist appeals.

Since emerging as a global economic and political power, China has increasingly focused on shaping international norms and institutions. Chinese leaders have indeed made extraterritorial jurisdiction a national priority in recent years, adding clauses to domestic laws that aim to expand their reach beyond China’s borders. But China’s extraterritorial influence is a natural consequence of its growing economic and political interconnectedness with the rest of the world. As its clout grows, policymakers in China and elsewhere must figure out whether or how Chinese law can be reconciled with Western legal systems.