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Chinese Legal Development Assistance: Which Rule of Law? Whose Pragmatism?

China is both a recipient and a donor of foreign development aid. As a donor state, China insists that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of foreign states, and it criticizes Western human rights conditionality and rule of law advocacy in development cooperation. Due to this non-interventionist posture, Chinese foreign development aid is commonly seen to exclude politically sensitive assistance for governance institutions and the legal sector in particular. This Article demonstrates that Chinese foreign development aid does, in fact, include a legal component. Chinese legal development assistance comprises advice on law reform in developing countries; capacity-building programs for lawyers from developing countries; and regulatory compliance support for Chinese companies operating in developing countries. Through this aid, China does not advocate a specifically Chinese version of the rule of law. This is not only an ideological choice but also a commercially motivated decision: China’s interests as an investor are supported by Western-style legal institutions. More fundamentally, China’s idiosyncratic legal governance model cannot be easily exported to foreign countries because of its reliance on repressed, largely informal knowledge about the desired relationship between the Communist Party and the legal system.


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