New York, Feb. 24, 2012—Professor Benjamin L. Liebman, the Robert L. Lieff Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, met with Vice President Joe Biden and senior White House advisers on Feb. 8 to discuss human rights and legal reforms in China. Liebman, a leading expert on China’s legal system, was the only scholar invited to the White House for the gathering.
“Vice President Biden made his view clear that developing a society that provides robust protections of basic rights is in China’s interest both politically and economically,” said Liebman, director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Chinese Legal Studies. He added that there is a growing awareness that human rights issues in China must go beyond high profile cases and address the rights of average Chinese citizens.
Liebman’s meeting at the White House took place a week before a visit to the United States by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is widely expected to become China’s top leader later this year. The meeting was thought to signal the Obama administration’s commitment to human rights issues abroad, as well as its interest in China’s stability and growth. Liebman added that White House officials also showed a strong interest in understanding some of the broader trends influencing the development of the Chinese legal system. “The U.S.-China relationship is extremely complex,” he noted. “It is clear that human rights and rule of law issues continue to be one important aspect of the relationship.”
Despite the slowing pace of legal reforms in China, Liebman pointed out in the meeting that deepening Chinese rule of law reforms is in the interest of both the U.S. and China. “There is a lot of instability in China; in the long run, China needs to continue improving its legal system if it is going to enhance stability,” he said. “There remain significant areas for potential cooperation between the U.S. and China on rule of law issues.”
In particular, Liebman explained that there is a large constituency for legal reform within China, including many officials within the legal system, who believe legal reforms should be deepened. “Despite recent setbacks and very serious ongoing problems,” he said, “it is also important to recognize the progress China has made.”
Columbia Law School has been a leader in Chinese legal studies for more than 30 years, and has during that time trained hundreds of Chinese lawyers, judges, scholars, and officials.
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