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Network Solutions

Author: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies
March 4, 2010
South China Morning Post

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The most formidable challenge to China's establishment of a credible rule of law is neither the quality of its legislation nor the professional competence of its judges, prosecutors, lawyers and police. Laws and the skills of those who apply them have both witnessed substantial progress in the People's Republic during the past three decades.

The real challenge to the administration of justice in China is, rather, the undue intrusion of politics and, even more broadly, of guanxi, the network of interpersonal relations of mutual protection, benefit and dependency that is one of the enduring hallmarks of Chinese society.

Courts and judges have much to lose and to fear if they ignore these influences. Such well-known distortions of the legal process as "local protectionism" and corruption are specific manifestations of politics and guanxi.

Although Chinese communist leaders do not publicise the party's intervention in important cases, they openly insist on party control of the judiciary. But they cannot be happy about other distortions of judicial decision-making that undermine the nation's laws.

Of course, to some extent, politics affects the legal system in every country, and every society consists of informal human interaction and influence.

Yet governments that practise the rule of law--not merely proclaim it--seek to limit political and personal interference with the wheels of justice not only by enacting norms that prohibit these universal phenomena but also by promoting values, ethics, policies, institutional changes and customs that support these legal prohibitions.

Crucially, the better rule-of-law systems provide their judges with enough financial and professional security to enable them to resist external blandishments.

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