U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and China's Minister of Justice Zou Yu opened a Sino-American legal conference here Monday with pledges to work for closer economic ties.
About 900 Americans, most of them lawyers involved in international trade, gathered with 600 Chinese legal and economic officials in the Great Hall of the People to exchange views on what each country should do to improve the legal framework for trade and investment.
The official New China News Agency reported that the conference is the largest of its kind ever held in Beijing.
The importance China attaches to the three-day event was demonstrated by the attendance Monday of Vice Premiers Wan Li and Qiao Shi and the delivery of speeches by seven of China's top officials in the fields of economics, trade and law.
The Chinese officials generally affirmed that this nation's policies of economic reform and openness to the world will be further strengthened. They also stressed that for trade to grow, the United States must accept increased Chinese exports so that China will have the foreign exchange it needs to purchase American products.
State Councilor Zhang Jingfu said that growth in Chinese textile exports to the United States "should be regarded as conducive to the development of the bilateral trade between our two countries, and not taken as an excuse by the United States for more restrictions."
American speakers praised China's progress in establishing a legal framework for trade and investment but pointed out a variety of difficulties that continue to inhibit expansion of ties.
"Economic relations between the United States and China are thriving today," Meese said. "Our bilateral trade is now more than $8 billion per year and is growing. Americans have by this point invested more than $1.5 billion in China. Only Hong Kong has invested more."
High Costs, Limited Access
Meese also cited problems. "Many American firms report frustration at high costs, arbitrary pricing, tight foreign exchange controls, limited access to Chinese markets, complicated bureaucratic procedures, shortages of qualified personnel and unpredictable commercial practices," he said.
But he added that he can see China is now at work "building an essential foundation of a nation's prosperity--the rule of law."
"Over the course of the last eight years, with a notable acceleration in just the last year or so," he continued, "China has engaged in an exciting process of inquiry aimed at shaping a modern legal order."
The Chinese legal profession--and the rule of law in general--was largely dismantled during the chaos of the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.
Since 1979, when China turned its attention from political struggles to economic development, the basic framework of law has been re-established, including rules for foreign investment. But arbitrary bureaucratic decisions, legal ambiguities and ignorance or flouting of the law are still problems that affect Chinese citizens and foreigners.
While Chinese officials expressed pride in the accomplishments of recent years, they also acknowledged difficulties.
"Instead of having no laws to observe, our country now has laws to abide by," said Wang Hanbin, secretary general of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's legislative body. "(But) China's legislation, particularly the economic and administrative legislation, is not yet complete and sound enough."
Jerome A. Cohen, an attorney and former director of East Asian legal studies at Harvard University who gave one of the speeches Monday, said in an interview that the conference is important because the Chinese government often acts upon suggestions made by foreigners in the fields of economics and law.
"You've had leaders of China sitting here listening to all these speeches," Cohen said. "You can see they're taking it very seriously."