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First-Ever “U.S.-China Judicial Dialogue” Supports an Exchange of Views on Judicial Reform

Earlier this month, Department of Commerce General Counsel Kelly Welsh and I led a delegation of respected federal judges and other officials to Beijing, China, to join their Chinese judicial counterparts for the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-China Judicial Dialogue in Support of Reform and Economic Growth.  President Obama and Chinese President Xi agreed to establish the dialogue during President Xi’s state visit last September.  The dialogue gives us an opportunity to engage on the topic of judicial reform and to share the U.S. experience ensuring fair, transparent and independent application of the rule of law in the commercial context.

I always enjoy returning to Beijing.  My wife’s parents met in the city in 1947, and my wife was born there in 1949.  I have followed the city’s growth over the years with great interest, and it was a particular privilege to lead our delegation there.

Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer greets Jiang Wei, the Vice Chairman of the Central Leading Group on Judicial System Reform of the Communist Party of China, at the dialogue, which took place Aug. 3 and 4 in Beijing.  The U.S. delegation included officials from the Departments of Justice, Commerce and State and from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.  (Photo by Jake Miller, U.S. Department of State)The U.S. judges were Diane Wood, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit; Leonie Brinkema, U.S. District Court Judge of the Eastern District of Virginia; and Lucy Koh, U.S. District Court Judge of the Northern District of California.  The Chinese delegation was led by Jiang Wei, the Vice Chairman of the Central Leading Group on Judicial System Reform of the Communist Party of China, and Tao Kaiyuan, Vice President of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC).  It included senior judges from China’s SPC, the senior judge and president of the Beijing Intellectual Property Court and Chinese legal scholars. 

Our three talented and experienced U.S. judges discussed with senior Chinese judges and other experts topics relevant to commercial cases, ranging from case management to evidence, expert witnesses, amicus briefs, the use of precedents and China’s system of “guiding cases.”  Speakers from both sides gave presentations that explored complex questions on technical areas of law.  The conversations, during the formal meetings and tea breaks, were lively, candid, direct and constructive, highlighting both the similarities in and important differences between the U.S. and Chinese legal and judicial systems.  I told our Chinese hosts that the views our judges expressed would be entirely their own, reflecting our separation of powers and the independence of our judiciary.  Our judges displayed that independence as they weighed in on a range of issues, such as the role of precedents in interpreting statutes and the challenge of balancing public access to information while safeguarding privacy and protecting trade secrets.

Several of the Chinese participants discussed pending cases in U.S. courts involving Chinese defendants.  I believe it was useful for us to air our differences and for our experts to exchange views on technical and sensitive areas of law.  At the meeting, it was clear that although we come from different backgrounds and will not always agree, we all recognize the importance of legal reasoning and that increased transparency is a way of earning the public’s trust in the fairness and objectivity of the judicial system.

Ambassador Baucus, Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer, Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission Secretary Meng Jiangzhu and Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission Secretary General Wang Yongqing. (Photo by -- meetings took place at the Rui’an Hotel in Beijing.  The delegation also attended the appeal of a patent case at the recently established Beijing Intellectual Property Court and visited the Chinese SPC Information Center.  Highlighting the support for the dialogue within the Chinese government, senior members of the delegation also met with Meng Jiangzhu, politburo member and head of the Party Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, to discuss the dialogue, the importance of U.S.-China bilateral economic relations and other issues. 

Updated March 3, 2017