China has a great future but reaching its full potential will depend on a neutral and respected judiciary, active and dedicated lawyers and reverence for the rule of law.
“Before leaving China, I want to say a few words about a couple of topics of particular importance to me and China: the importance of rule of law and freedom of expression to the formation of a progressive and stable society,” U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke said recently in a farewell address at the Renmin University Law School in Beijing.
“Together, rule of law and freedom of speech have been responsible for making America such a successful, innovative, dynamic and stable society, one that has attracted and continues to attract people from all around the world.”
“The United States Constitution is the foundation of our legal system,” Ambassador Locke said. “Through the generations, our courts have established that no one is above the law, not even the President of the United States.”
The concept of equality before the law is also found in China’s own traditions. As far back as the 4th century BC, a Chinese statesman and reformer established the doctrine reflected in this saying, “When the prince violates the law, the crime he commits is the same as that of the common people.”
“Another force of stability in American society is freedom of speech,” Ambassador Locke continued. “We view freedom of expression as a universal right, and indeed it is enshrined in China’s constitution as well…The protection of free speech offered by the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution is not just for speech that reflects majority opinion or the government position…it protects the expression of ideas that do not represent the mainstream, and that are often unpopular. Yet society benefits greatly from the airing of those views…They can inform and influence the opinions of the majority, and in doing so they can bring about policy changes that improve society.”
“China has a great future…but reaching its full potential will depend on a neutral and respected judiciary, active and dedicated lawyers…and reverence to the rule of law,” Ambassador Locke said. “It also will depend on respect for the freedom of speech for all, an open Internet, and a well-informed citizenry willing to engage in an unrestricted dialogue on how best to build a stable and progressive future for China.”