“The China, Inc. Challenge”

On March 2, 2018, Professor Mark Wu, a Harvard law professor, joined the Sawyer Seminar on Corporations and International Law to discuss his insights on the unique economic structure of China, which he has deemed China, Inc., and its relation to international law

Professor Wu began his talk with a few opening comments that framed the core ideas for his writings. He began with explaining the premise that international law and its global ideology was crafted as a product of the world war. Therefore, international law was created with a particular and formal outlook in mind in which one size, one single legal structure, was meant to regulate all. China decided to step away from these formalistic ideals because its composition did not work for them. China decided to take a different route and created an economy based on their unique history. Professor Wu emphasized that because of this, there was no use comparing China to other state’s economy as it operates on the platform in which was crafted specifically for China. The actions of China most likely won’t work for other states because they do not share the same economic characteristics.

Professor Wu went on to point out that is where the tension between China and international law really lies. Because of how different China’s economy is and the fact that international legal regime was not created with this type of economy in mind, international law is not compatible with modern China, especially when it comes to trade. Hence, the several cases brought against China that have not been able to find success. Wu suggested that how we see international law working, as it did during the era of World War II, might be the actual anomaly. Maybe it is actually the case that the state and the corporation were always meant to be intertwined and China is the state that has gotten it right. Nonetheless, this presents the current question of what international institutions should do with China.

After explaining these framing ideals, Professor Wu opened up the talk to questions. There were several questions discussing the interaction of China and the current international frameworks in place as well as questions about what will happen with the relationship in the future. These questions were met discussions of the pending cases China as brought forward in the World Trade Organization and with several speculations and uncertainties about the future of China, Inc. The current structure that modern China has been built upon could be considered “idealistic” to some as one of its only downsides being corruption but it might not be sustainable for the future. Wu expressed his concerns for a future in which democracy would evolve in China. If this were to happen, the model of single-party dominance and state-owned enterprises might collapse, as the economic structure in China depends on the lack of democracy. If this were to happen, China would have to adapt yet again to another model in which its economy can thrive. The question of whether international institutions should and will be able to regulate China is still hard to determine. In Wu’s eyes, the western world is losing its dominance in the world and as this happens it remains to be seen if this intervention in eastern countries, such as China, will even still be acceptable.

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