Interview with Michael Ristaniemi on his dissertation about antitrust – Part II

Michael Ristaniemi, 2019. / © SEPPO SAMULI

This is Part II of the interview with Michael Ristaniemi. In Part I we discussed his background and motivation for the dissertation. In this part we will dive deeper into the actual contents of the dissertation and Michael’s reflection on recent developments in antitrust globally with some comparative thoughts.

Did anything surprise you as you worked on the thesis? 

To be frank a lot of stuff surprised me and its more of a question what to emphasize. The first clear thing that was interesting to realize is that many things are so interrelated. When you are doing research as a student for your Master’s thesis and then for your PhD you are focusing on a very narrow niche. One major aha-moment for myself was realizing how this niche is really linked to many other areas and how they inter-develop. For instance, one article in my dissertation covered the fact that whatever the major economic powers of the globe think about cooperating really shapes how international competition can develop in practice. For example, the preference of how the US to cooperate bilaterally or multilaterally affects many things globally, including what I covered in my dissertation.

Currently there is a lack of  a strong political will to cooperate multilaterally. In some extent China isn’t representative of that. They have their own multilateral agreements that are outside the ones that we are used to seeing in Western countries. But the trend that is seen generally across international law to patch the lack of political cooperation is the rise of so-called trans-governmental networks. They are not on the political level but rather authorities of different countries cooperating very closely. It has led to technocratic international governance as opposed to political level international law in a way. This in fact has a really strong impact, both positive and negative.

A second memorable point I want to mention is the ignorance of history in competition law. I think most people aren’t aware of the origin of competition law in the EU or the US. Nowadays it has been more about using modern-day economic theory to improve consistency of competition law application. This is important, but there is perhaps something to learn in how competition law started independently in both places (EU and US). Competition law is a response to the allergy towards too much economic and political dominance by companies and was a way to manage that dominance. It is something we are seeing a need for with the digital economy. A lot of the discussions that are being had today in competition law circles wouldn’t be all that different if we go back to the 1950s or even 30s.

We found the point you made in your thesis:” The EU has taken a much more interventionist approach than the American, or Chinese agencies have towards unilateral conduct of key digital platform firms, such as Amazon, Google, and WeChat” extremely interesting. Could you talk a bit more about China’s position? 

The general trend when I was writing my dissertation was that the EU was sort of the outlier by being interventionist to the extent it has been. Since I have finished my dissertation the US has brought two big lawsuits against both FB and Google, and China has published a draft revision to its anti-monopoly law (the Chinese competition law) and also drafted guidelines concerning the platform economy. Therefore, the tide is changing. I have to say I am not a huge expert on the application of Chinese competition law, but what I can say is that competition law is very new in China. The first competition law was enacted in only 2008. What they have been doing is mostly capacity building since then.

And regarding the huge fines that digital companies have faced in Europe, that is more of an exception than a rule. I can’t say what the reason is for the lenient treatment in China of giant digital companies. Nevertheless, what is clear is that the treatment has indeed been lenient compared to Europe. In the US, the treatment has been lenient because of a differing interpretation of relevant economics, which emphasizes size as a source of efficiency gains that consumers benefit from. The role of personal data is key in digital services.

That’s where you can tie in China. We know that the privacy discussion differs in China. The concept of privacy is different in the Chinese context and that the discussion around human rights, in general, is very different in China compared to the EU or the US. The differing treatment between the Chinese and Europeans may partially be a result of a different appreciation of the concept of personal data privacy, that’s at least a part of it. As I mentioned, in China there are interesting developments now underway during this year. There is going to be something more specific but currently, they are still at the draft guidelines stage for the platform economy and also a draft revision to their relevant competition law, as I mentioned earlier. These changes to the anti-monopoly law would enable their authorities – the SAMR –  to better tackle these huge digital companies.

You mentioned visiting China University of Political Science and Law, in Beijing during your research and wrote: “I got some important insights into the Chinese perspectives relative to my research”. Could you tell us a bit more about this?

I’ll start with the bigger picture to give some context. Since my theme was international competition law I did try to visit places abroad during my one and half year study leave. I actually managed to stay most of the time of my study leave abroad. I  spent one academic year at University of California, Berkeley after which I was in Brussels as a visiting researcher at Vrije Universiteit Brussel for a few months and then also, as you mentioned, in Beijing at the China-EU Law School.

Beijing was great actually, it was by chance that I noticed the scholarship that was circulated through our law school’s researcher email list. The China-EU Law School is a very interesting institution. It is partially funded by the EU and it’s within the larger university that is only dedicated to political science and law.  I understood it is highly regarded in China and it was a great experience to be part of it.

First of all, just the fact that they had an amazing legal library was great. Although there isn’t that much at the end of the day about Chinese competition law in English, mostly probably because of competition law is relatively new as mentioned earlier. I also enjoyed really good discussions with scholars and law students about their idea of economic law and policy. A highlight was when I got to discuss with, Hao Qian, one of the university’s associate professors who was actually involved in creating the anti-monopoly law in China. She told me about the cooperation that the Chinese had with Americans and Europeans when creating the anti-monopoly legislation. If I recall correctly the law resembles EU competition law on paper more than the US counterpart since Europeans were more willing to assist and provide technical assistance in the preparation phase than the Americans. Of course, how it is enforced and applied varies always country by country. But a very interesting discussions all in as a part of the visit.

What are you planning on now after the doctoral degree?

Well I work as VP, Sustainability at Metsä Group and  I am continuing with that for the time being. It is a great platform to learn about management and sustainability. I’m also writing and researching related topics in a couple ongoing projects, and I am a collaborator in a project that just received funding from the Academy of Finland on crisis preparedness and the security of supply. To put it all in one sentence: right now the focus is economic law and policy, businesses as societal actors and the practical and academic opportunities there may be relating to these topics. But otherwise, we will see, who knows.

Michael and another PhD student, Juho Saloranta at China-EU School of Law

The interview and report were done by the Center’s intern, Mr. Jakub Pichna. Jakub is a Master’s student at the University of Helsinki’s International Business Law program with a BSc. in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Turku.

Interview with Michael Ristaniemi on his dissertation about antitrust – Part I

Michael Ristaniemi, 2019. / © SEPPO SAMULI

Michael Ristaniemi, currently the VP, Sustainability at Metsä Group, has defended his dissertation titled International Antitrust: Toward upgrading coordination and enforcement on 31 October 2020. Professor Petri Kuoppamäki, a Board member of the Finnish China Law Center was one of the examiners and public opponents. Michael’s dissertation has a very interesting chapter on international antitrust on how the three economic superpowers the USA, the EU, and China approach international antitrust, and the possibility to enhance international cooperation. Therefore, the Center would like to take the opportunity to further discuss the dissertation, Michael’s stay in Beijing at the China University of Political Science and Law and his future plans. In Part I of the interview, Michael’s background and his motivation for writing about antitrust are discussed. Part II will cover the dissertation more concretely.

Could you tell us a bit about your background?

I am Finnish-American but I have lived most of my life in Finland. I was born and raised in Espoo but then moved to study law at the University of Turku. During my student years, I had a bit of an international mix: I did two semesters abroad, one in California and one in Thailand, and an internship in Washington DC at the law firm Morgan Lewis (previously known as Bingham McCutchen). I focused my studies on business law and since graduating in 2011 I’ve worked in the private sector primarily as an in-house counsel in international Finnish companies. In 2012, quite shortly after I graduated I started a PhD project on the side, and then I took a year and a half study leave to focus on the dissertation which was a great period in between professional working life.

All in all, I would say my legal background is heavily impacted by having worked only in the private sector with commercial law and business law questions.

Could you tell us about your doctoral research? What is your motivation behind pursuing the topic? 

Besides focusing on business, I have always been interested in societal questions which is an interesting reason to study law in general: you get to study the rules of society and how everything works. From that perspective competition law is great for understanding society because it is essentially the rules of our market economy and the framework within which businesses function.

I started my deep dive into competition law early in my law school career. I wrote my bachelor’s and master’s theses in the realm of competition law so my dissertation was sort of a continuum.

I wrote my Master’s thesis on airline alliances in light of competition law. I found the topic peculiar in its nature; it is a very political sector when you think about it. The airline industry has rules that prevent merging. Without these political rules, there would be a lot fewer airlines in this world. Because airlines can’t merge they cooperate more closely than typical competitors in a more rules-free industry. For instance, airlines agree on pricing on a certain route.

With my dissertation, when mirroring it with what I had learned from my master’s thesis, I felt that this interplay of politics and competition law was a weird situation and it would be interesting to dive deeper into it through more general research. That’s basically how the topic was born. It also got a bit more energy through the work I was doing at Cargotec and then at Metsä Group, which are both international businesses, operating globally in global markets. Through my work, I came to contact with global markets. I could really see the current situation up close: you have many competition laws all around the world and authorities that don’t really cooperate that well. All this happens within a framework of rules that aren’t that consistent in how they are enforced. This creates a burden on businesses and is generally ineffective. I believe my work has a practical impact and is not only an academic consideration.

Michael at his his dissertation defence on 31 October 2020 with Professor Antti Aine (University of Turku) serving as custos and Professor Petri Kuoppamäki (Aalto University) as opponent

The interview and report were done by the Center’s intern, Mr. Jakub Pichna. Jakub is a Master’s student at the University of Helsinki’s International Business Law program with a BSc. in Economics and Business Administration from the University of Turku.

An interview with doctoral candidate Kangle Zhang

Kangle Zhang is a doctoral candidate in the discipline of international law, and a research fellow at Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights, University of Helsinki. His doctoral dissertation entitled ‘Not Equal: Towards an International Law of Finance’ focuses on income and wealth inequality that is linked to operations in the international financial market (and the potential of international law for fighting it). On 17 August 2020, he will defend his dissertation with Professor Anne Orford (Melbourne Law School) serving as opponent and Professor Martti Koskenniemi (University of Helsinki) as custos. The Finnish China Law Center took the opportunity to discuss with Kangle about his experience as a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki, and about his involvement in Chinese law-related activities at the University of Helsinki and the Finnish China Law Center.

Finnish China Law Center: Could you say a little about your background?

Mr. Kangle: Many thanks for asking me to do the interview. I was at first resistance toward the idea—I was not sure if any of my experience might be of interest to other, nor if this interview could go beyond the normal praise. But perhaps this would also be a point of reflection for myself, and it might serve institutional purposes.

I have been at University of Helsinki for 6 years. Before this, I did my undergraduate degree in international politics and master’s degree majoring in international law in China at Peking University. I would be so bold as to label myself an “internationalist”. Peking University is genuinely a great place for academic advancement—I developed my interest in international law there with the encouragement of my professors.

On a more personal level, I war born and raised in a small village in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in the north-west of China. I have definitely benefited from the economic growth of China, in the sense that the broader social mobility accompanying economic development enabled me to receive education at levels would be unimaginable at my parents’ generation.

Finnish China Law Center: Could you tell us about your doctoral research? What is your motivation behind pursuing the topic?

Mr. Kangle: My doctoral thesis starts by describing the link between the international financial market and economic inequality. From there, it [i] examines the law of international finance and its relation to inequality, [ii] suggests an explanation for the nonchalance of the financial system and rules therein towards enlarging inequality, and [iii] proposes the inclusion of international financial market into the purview of international law research—the nexus of an international law of finance. The dissertation suggests that an international law of finance would be a field where international lawyers actively engage with the intertwined network of actors and rules in the financial market, where they master the vocabulary and grammar of finance, dissect the distributive significance of the legal design of the financial market, and make good use of their toolbox by examining the role of state in enabling financial market operations.

My biggest motivation is to understand inequality and if possible contribute to fighting it. I grow up in rural China and the periods of my study in Beijing, plus my years in Finland (and for sometime in the US and UK), have exposed me to the reality of inequality. In Finland, the societal organization is quite different (comparing with many parts of the world) in the sense that generally, some basic social welfare measures are in place. However when comparing the living situation in Finland and in for example China, it definitely raises some questions. I tend to think that the inequalities (and related to which human suffering) are related to money and finance. And considering that the architecture of finance are, broadly speaking, legal arrangements, I deem that (international) lawyers might be offering some useful ideas in fighting inequality that is related to the financial market operations.

My second motivation lies in an observation, that a growing amount of students from “elite” universities are going to the finance industry. This trend has been witnessed (and written about) in different countries. This seems to suggest some sorts of changes in the ways economies are organized. At the same time, the financial system is essential to the economy, both in the sense that its collapse leads to a broader economic recession and that it could be offering the necessary support in times of crisis. And all these are fiercely debated in economics. In other words (and for lawyers and regulators), we do not really know how to cope with this field that is significantly important in our societies and to people. I took the doctoral project as a process of learning and understanding about finance and societal organization.

The third and perhaps more theoretical motivation lies in my interested in the public/private distinction. Debates on international economic order, domestic societal organization, development, and globalization seem to hinge on an idea of a continuum of governmental intervention into the market. In other words, oppositional categories—of government and market, public and private—are assumed, regardless of the abstractness and indeterminacy of each category. Such a distinction penetrates deeply into our daily lives, reifies legal institutions and processes, and shields exploitation and unjust distribution from contestation. I tend to think that the financial system (and more specifically money) is a fundamental domain in which this distinction functions—that finance is the linkage between different social actors and their activities. And the operations of the financial system are enabled by this very distinction.

Finnish China Law Center: How has your experience been being a doctoral student at the University of Helsinki?

Mr. Kangle: Perhaps three points are worth mentioning here. First, the Doctoral Programme at Helsinki (and perhaps the Nordic countries in general) is quite different comparing with it in many other parts of the world. Here you are in a way considered a (quasi-)faculty member. This means that you have teaching obligations and are actively involved in the broader discussions at the faculty. I have very much benefited from this process. I enjoy teaching quite a lot, and in order to teach something, I need to try and understand the subjects as much as possible. I have also had the opportunity to teach what I am researching on, which helped with my own research.

Second, writing a dissertation at the Erik Castrén Institute is fantastic. The enthusiastic doctoral students, visiting researchers and very helpful (and sometimes very critical) senior scholars make this a vibrant and thought-provoking community.

Third, the Finnish China Law Center serves as a great platform for discussion on China-related legal issues. I have actively tried to avoid writing about China in my dissertation. In fact I am quite tired of all the China related works by Chinese researchers—there is some value in it but I do not see how better academic works could be produced if it is only the Chinese working on China-issues, the Indians working on Indian-issues, the Kenyians working on Kenya-issues (for example). That said, I am most definitely interested in China-related matters, and the Finnish China Law Center brings in many scholars from various backgrounds and with often very different views. I have quite enjoyed some of the events and discussions at the Center.

Finnish China Law Center: What do you think about the research and education in Chinese law and legal culture at the University of Helsinki?

Mr. Kangle: In terms of research in law, I have seen some really interesting works by Professors Ulla Liukkunen and Yifeng Chen. I was not involved in the few Chinese law research projects thus cannot speak on these projects. I did work with Professor Kimmo Nuotio and Professor Wenhua Shan at Xi’an Jiaotong University in publishing a edited volume tiled ‘Normative Readings of the Belt and Road Initiative: Road to New Paradigms’. I appreciate the research initiatives at the University of Helsinki, and Helsinki is most definitely an important habour in research (and education) in Chinese law and legal culture internationally. Perhaps it would be beneficial furthering the link between the legal research works and the legal practices. The growing international commerce certainly calls for legal support in, for example, tax, arbitration, or even more practically shipment issues. This is perhaps not just for Finnish business but also the broader northern European business community. Some good initiatives have been taken and I am hoping to contribute in this process.

When education is concerned, our Faculty (and the University) has established connections with many Chinese universities. This offers not only a platform for scholarly communication but also (and perhaps more importantly) for student exchanges. I think these are great endeavors and will be of benefit in the long run.

Finnish China Law Center: How have you been involved in furthering Chinese law research activities and cooperation with Chinese partners at the University of Helsinki and the Finnish China Law Center?

Mr. Kangle: As mentioned, I have worked to co-edit a volume on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The volume started at an international conference on the BRI in Helsinki under the umbrella of the new New Silk Road Law Schools Alliance. I have acted as a contact person for our faculty in the Alliance. Perhaps a few more words on the Alliance: it is consisted of twenty-some law schools internationally, seeking to promote research and teaching collaborations. Through the Alliance, our faculty built and furthered connections with the National University of Singapore, the University of Hong Kong, Taiwan University, and many other universities in different parts of the world including Australia and the US. I have also participated in interesting conferences and seminars at the Center. I would also wish to add that I will be involved in the Global Governance Law master’s programme starting the next academic year, to teach a course on Chinese financial regulations. I am also very much looking forward to join and be involved in the activities at the Center now that I am almost done with my doctoral research.

Finnish China Law Center: Do you have any plan after the doctoral degree?

Mr. Kangle: If everything goes smoothly and nothing too majorly wrong happens, I will take up a two-year postdoc position at Peking University Law School. In these two years, I would like to expand my doctoral thesis and do more research relating to the potential of international law in fighting income and wealth inequality.

PROFESSOR JUHA KARHU ON THE NEW CHINESE CIVIL CODE – PART II

Today’s blog post will feature the second part of the Center’s interview with Professor Juha Karhu about his thoughts on the civil law codification project in China.

In this part, the interview focuses on the advantages and disadvantages of civil law codification, Professor Karhu’s special interest in the rights in rem discussion, and his advice for the teaching of the Chinese civil code to non-Chinese students.

Advantages and disadvantages of codification

Professor Karhu points out that prior to the Chinese civil code, various areas of civil law were already regulated in special pieces of legislation, i.e. Contract Law, Law of Real Rights, Marriage Law, Adoption Law, Inheritance Law, etc. There is no doubt that special legislation would make it simpler to target each legal problem individually and to amend the law when the desired outcome is not reached. This advantage could be lost with the codification of civil law since the Chinese legislator may close the door to making of special legislation in areas where the civil code is applicable. It is doubtful whether every problem could be solved on the basis of the general and abstract rules that form the backbone of any civil code.

One of the challenging issues, in Professor Karhu´s opinion, would be regulating digital behaviors. How would the questions regarding new digital forms of business, digital ways of interaction, social media, and so on be properly decided on the ground of such general and abstract rules? Nevertheless, special laws do not have the same unity as a civil code, and conflicts between the provisions of individual laws are inevitable. A civil code would help to mitigate these problems. Furthermore, a civil code would have the advantage of giving more weight to political, economic, and social decisions in China as long as such decisions are in line with the civil code and can be backed up by an article of the code.

Rights in rem and the civil code discussions

Professor Karhu is especially interested in following the discussions in China on the question of ownership or, more precisely, rights in rem. Private property is protected in China, but not in the same manner as in Western countries. For instance, private ownership of land is not recognized in the draft Chinese civil code. However, under rights in rem, there are rights to the land even if there is no private land ownership. This concept contains interesting Chinese characteristics. One of them flows from imperial China’s administration of land title according to which peasants and farmers could still develop certain rights on the soil of the land since skillful farmers would raise the value of the soil. The same concept did not exist in the European feudal systems.

This example also demonstrates that rights in rem are not so foreign to Chinese culture and history. Therefore, it is very important to look at how rights in rem will find their role in the development of Chinese society and economy, and what the proper level of protection and various forms of protection of private property are, particularly since these rights have defined business contexts and played an essential role in business financing as collaterals.

Teaching and the Chinese civil code

Professor Karhu has a lot of experience in teaching Chinese law. During February 2020, he taught the course ‘Chinese Civil Code 2020 – A Dream Come True?’ at the School of Law and Economy of China, Faculty of Law and Administration of the University of Warsaw. He observes that some foreign students tend to think they could learn about Chinese law simply by reading legal texts, underestimating the roles of history, culture, and politics. The truth is that no law anywhere could be taken separately from the legal culture.

Throughout his many academic visits to China, Karhu realizes that the key to teaching Chinese law is to make sure that students understand the learning tasks in such a way that these tasks involve not only reading the text of the law but understanding the legal culture as a part of Chinese culture. He also emphasizes the importance of encouraging students to be open-minded and ask questions instead of making assumptions tacitly based on their own society.

 

Juha Karhu, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Lapland, Finland was Professor of Contract Law and Tort Law at the Law Faculty of the University of Lapland during 1993-2017. He was also Dean of the Law Faculty from 2013 to 2017. His research focuses on the foundations of commercial law, including themes like the role of legal principles in dynamic contractual networks, the methods of calculating damages in business relations, the legal protection of business assets in cooperation projects, and the role of fundamental and human rights in new global economy. His research is characterized by strong comparative perspectives. His international contacts include University of Munster (Germany), Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (London), University of Gothenburg (where he was part-time Visiting Professor 2012-2016), and Indian Development Foundation (New Delhi, one month in 2015). Professor Karhu was also active in building up his expertise on Chinese legal system, and relations with Chinese Law Schools (especially Renmin University of China School of Law). He is the honorary doctor of University of Gothenburg and University of Turku. He was also awarded the price of “Academic Lawyer of the Year” in 2019 by the Finnish Society of Lawyers, with special notice to his role in developing the co-operation between Finnish and Chinese universities and legal institutions.

 

 

Professor Juha Karhu on the new Chinese Civil Code – Part I

In 2014, the civil law codification entered a new stage in China when the Central Committee of the Communist Party called for a new round of compilation in its Decisions on Major Issues Concerning Comprehensively Moving Governing the Country According to the Law Forward. The entire draft civil code shall be presented to the Congress in 2020 for the final legislative step.

In light of this development, the Finnish China Law Center had the pleasure to invite Juha Karhu, Professor (emeritus) of Contract Law and Tort Law at the Law Faculty of the University of Lapland, and the pioneer of China law research and Chinese network development in Finland, on an interview about his view on the central topics concerning civil law codification in China.

This first part of the interview discusses the motivations behind the new round of civil law codification in China, and the influence of Western law on the Chinese draft civil code.

Motivations behind civil law codification in China

According to Professor Karhu, there are three kinds of reasons behind China’s latest attempt at codification of civil law: historical reasons, political reasons and economic reasons.

Firstly, historically it is worth noticing that it takes decades to build a long-lasting civil code. In Europe, the civil codes have existed for centuries, for example, in France, the civil code has been around for over 200 years and in Germany over 100 years. Since the 1950s, there have been many attempts to draft a civil code for the People’s Republic of China, and the current round was finally taken up by the Communist Party leadership in 2014. Thus, the codification is not a novel idea but it has become a gradual process in recent Chinese history. While the previous plans were not successful, they have in effect written the key parts of the civil law legislation.

Secondly, for some, it came as a surprise that China was able to build a civil code, but Professor Karhu, having had a particular interest in various parts of Chinese civil law, could see that even during the drafting process of Contract Law, the Law of Rights in rem, and the Tort Liability Law, it was taken into consideration that the pieces of legislation would, later on, form a part of a wider civil code. Therefore, the development towards a Chinese civil code has not happened by chance, but through purposeful planning. The code strengthens the legal background of Chinese economic activities.

Lastly, from a political point of view, it has been over 40 years since China’s Reform and Opening Up in 1978. The 2014 decision of compiling a new civil code by the Chinese Communist Party reflects the idea that it was now the time to signalize economic actors both inside and outside the country that the Chinese economy has established itself so far and so strongly that writing this kind of civil code is possible. The code is of course not only for economic actors but for all Chinese people. However, Professor Karhu emphasizes that one of the main emphases has been to enable businesses and market transactions.

Influence of Western law on the Chinese draft civil code

Commenting on the influence of Western law, Professor Karhu first points out that many Western scholars, while quite knowledgeable about the Chinese legal system, tend to assume that China has adopted entire civil law models from their home countries whenever they find some similar conceptual structures, principles, and rules in the draft code. He does not believe that this is a good way to comprehend the Chinese civil code. It is obvious that to be part of the global economy, China has borrowed certain standards that come from other countries. Nevertheless, as the Chinese civil code is first and foremost a code for the people of the PRC, the Chinese characteristics are conspicuous. For example, the Chinese draft civil code employs a three-year standard duration of limitation of actions, instead of the present two years. The reasons for this change are following. Since it has been only  a little more than 40 years after the Opening Up period, the Chinese people have not been fully  accustomed to the regulations and legal norms, as well as all legal procedures to have their interests heard, which is why a two-year period would be insufficient. Meanwhile, two years would not be too short for Europeans who have been living for centuries under their civil rules.

 

Juha Karhu, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Lapland, Finland was Professor of Contract Law and Tort Law at the Law Faculty of the University of Lapland during 1993-2017. He was also Dean of the Law Faculty from 2013 to 2017. His research focuses on the foundations of commercial law, including themes like the role of legal principles in dynamic contractual networks, the methods of calculating damages in business relations, the legal protection of business assets in cooperation projects, and the role of fundamental and human rights in new global economy. His research is characterized by strong comparative perspectives. His international contacts include University of Munster (Germany), Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (London), University of Gothenburg (where he was part-time Visiting Professor 2012-2016), and Indian Development Foundation (New Delhi, one month in 2015). Professor Karhu was also active in building up his expertise on Chinese legal system, and relations with Chinese Law Schools (especially Renmin University of China School of Law). He is the honorary doctor of University of Gothenburg and University of Turku. He was also awarded the price of “Academic Lawyer of the Year” in 2019 by the Finnish Society of Lawyers, with special notice to his role in developing the co-operation between Finnish and Chinese universities and legal institutions.

 

Björn Ahl and the pursuit of interest in Chinese law research

Björn Ahl is Professor and Chair of Chinese Legal Culture at the University of Cologne. He currently holds the position of President of the European China Law Studies Association. The Finnish China Law Center had the pleasure to conduct an interview with him on his personal experience and recommendations for students and young professionals in researching Chinese law.

Professor Ahl began with his law studies at the University of Heidelberg in the 1990s and spent one year at the Law School of Nanjing University as an exchange student to improve his Chinese and take classes in Chinese law. According to him, foreign students in Chinese law schools were very rare at that time. ‘It was quite an open atmosphere among students, and we had fascinating discussions about Chinese and international law issues’, he reminisced. After finishing his law studies in Germany, he worked for some time at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, and then went back to Nanjing University to become the Associate Director of the Sino German Institute of Legal Studies. The interactions with Chinese colleagues and students during these times and being able to witness Chinese law’s rapid development had profoundly shaped his interests at this early stage of his career.

The focuses of Professor Ahl’s research include Chinese public law, comparative law and Chinese positions on public international law, and his main interests have always been comparative law and public international law. In his doctoral dissertation, he studied the application of international treaties in China. Since then, Chinese scholarship of public international law and Chinese state practice of public international law have become more and more relevant and complex topics.

During his teaching and research in Cologne, Professor Ahl has contextualized Chinese law by applying a concept of legal culture in order to tackle the challenges of studying Chinese law from an external and comparative perspective. He observed that while the context of law is regularly omitted in doctrinal legal research that takes an internal, participant-oriented approach to its object of study, external factors are more relevant for the understanding of foreign law if the people who study such law do not share the same preconceptions and preconceived attitudes as those who create and apply the law. Therefore, an approach to the research of Chinese law that is specifically sensitive to the historical, political, economic and institutional conditions of the creation, application and enforcement of law appears most suitable to avoid misconceptions and misrepresentations about the meaning and operation of Chinese law.

When being asked about the methodologies for conducting research in the field of Chinese law from the perspective of a foreign researcher, he pointed out that the answer to this question depends on the research question that the researcher wishes to pursue. However, if one likes to investigate a doctrinal question, he suggested that the researcher should not entirely omit context factors, in particular, if he or she takes a comparative approach. Otherwise, the researcher may end up with false or misleading results. He contended that this applies to the study of any foreign jurisdiction and does not pertain exclusively to Chinese law.

The interview concluded with Professor Ahl’s advice for students and young professionals wanting to go into researching Chinese law. He remarked that the fundamental basis of any meaningful research in Chinese law is a good proficiency in Chinese language. The next asset would excellent training in Chinese law. He recommended enrolling in a Chinese law school through an exchange programme as the most practical way to have the first exposure to Chinese law. He additionally noted that it would be very useful to get an insight into how law works in practice, which can be done through an internship in a Chinese law firm.

The Centre hereby takes the chance to express our gratitude to Professor Ahl for taking the time to participate in our Featured Researchers interview series.

Professor Duncan McCargo and his Journey in Understanding Southeast Asian Politics

Hailing from the UK, Professor Duncan McCargo has spent extended periods of time across South East Asia and has produced remarkable work in the fields of political science and justice especially with regards to Thailand. He currently holds the position of Director of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, whilst continuing to teach and research as a professor of political science at the University of Copenhagen. The Finnish China Law Centre had the pleasure to welcome Professor McCargo to the University of Helsinki in October 2019 when he came to deliver a guest lecture at the Confucius Institute on recent trends in Asian politics. The Centre is privileged to conduct a more in-depth interview with him, focusing on his intellectual journey and views on researching South-East Asian politics as well as its challenges and opportunities.

Professor McCargo’s unorthodox exposure to South East Asia started during his travels to Thailand and Burma in his undergraduate years back in the 1980s. According to him, there were not many students from Europe visiting the region during that time. As a young, aspiring travel enthusiast, he was very intrigued by the people that he encountered. Idealism and curiosity led him into his quest of trying to comprehend the unfamiliar. Upon graduation, he went to teach in Japan for a couple of years but eventually concluded that Thailand appealed to him more. He then went back to Thailand and underwent intensive immersion, where he lived with a local family and studied the Thai language intensively.

Professor McCargo has contextualised the political and legal landscape of Thailand as one that is characterised by political problems where military coups, constitution changes and political crises are a common phenomenon. He has further pointed out the judicialisation phenomenon of politics in Thailand following two 2006 speeches given by the King, in which he urged judges to solve political problems. Thereafter, the centre of gravity in Thai politics shifted to judges and court cases. Through the courts, political decisions were made, where court cases are brought against politicians, eventually resulting in them being banned from office and parties being dissolved. Professor McCargo conducted a year’s ethnographic fieldwork in Bangkok, much of it spent in courtrooms. His latest book addressing these issues is Fighting for Virtue, Justice and Politics in Thailand (Cornell University Press, 2019); and related articles are on the way.

Another project Professor McCargo is working on centers around the 2019 election in Thailand and mainly deals with developments around the election and the creation of new parties. He is now writing a new book with one of his former PhD students on the rise and fall of the Future Forward Party, which was recently dissolved by the Constitutional Court.

Professor Duncan McCargo and Professor Ulla Liukkunen, Director of the Finnish China Law Center

When being asked of his views on the prospects of studying Asia, he has framed the current era as being the Pacific century, where the centre of power has shifted away from the United States and Western Europe. Professor McCargo highlights how many many global trends in contemporary politics such as populism, polarization, direct communication of authoritarian leaders to its subjects and the decline of political parties had their origins in South East Asia. This not only serves as a paradigm shift in the contextualisation of Asia as a peripheral area of the world, but it illustrates how Asian countries can be studied from a comparative perspective alongside their Western counterparts.

Professor McCargo does not find the idea of a distinction between ‘East’ and ‘West’ analytically useful, and is reluctant to be labelled with any particular approach. He believes all that matters is quality of academic work, which is not restricted to any specific styles or methodologies.

As a proponent of qualitative field-based work, Professor McCargo believes linguistic and cultural fluency are essential, since they allow researchers to communicate directly with their research subjects. This is seen in one his previous projects on the southern Thai insurgency : he spent a year driving around the region talking to hundreds of informants, using an approach derived from political ethnography. Despite criticisms of such approaches by many political scientists as being too time-consuming and subjective, McCargo argues that qualitative and quantitative data can and should complement each other. Cross-checking with documentary sources may be done to verify the validity of a narrative.

Commenting on the inherent sensitivity of certain research topics, Professor McCargo notes that he has often benefited from the willingness of interview informants to share important information with him as a researcher. Some Southeast Asian informants see academics as potential allies in communicating their experiences and messages to the wider world. McCargo notes that for most of his professional career Thailand has been a relatively open society where informants feel relatively free to speak out – making it an easier place to conduct fieldwork than some other Asian countries. The presence of large numbers of foreign tourists means that outsiders have become a familiar sight in Thailand, rather than a cause for concern.

On a concluding note, Professor McCargo talked about the challenges of getting social scientists to change their perception that studying Asia is a minority pursuit, when in reality the majority of the world’s population lives in the non-western world. The study of Southeast Asian politics tends to be viewed as a niche field within the discipline of comparative politics, yet this work actually has a much broader intellectual reach as Asia becomes increasingly salient both politically and economically.

The Centre hereby takes the chance to express our gratitude for his time and his interview and looks forward to working with him soon in future projects.

The interview and report were done by the Center’s intern, Mr. Kelvin Choo Wei Cheng. Kelvin is a undergraduate student at the University of Warwick, and an exchange student at University of Helsinki for the autumn and spring terms 2019-2020.

An interview with Prof. Kimmo Nuotio (Part II): Experience with Belt-and-Road and Chinese collaborations

Introduction to this blogpost

This is Part II of the two-part blog post on the interview with Prof. Kimmo Nuotio on his thoughts and recollection of the China Law Center, as well as other aspects of Chinese collaboration, including the Belt-and-Road Initiative. The interview has been done by our research assistant, Ngor Sin. Part I can be found here.

In Part II, we cover Prof. Kimmo Nuotio’s participation in Belt and Road Initiative-related projects, and his general experience of collaboration with Chinese scholars and education institutions. He also gave very insightful comments on his personal approach of how to collaborate with Chinese colleagues.

New Silk Road Law Schools Alliance and the related publication

One of the biggest efforts in BRI regarding legal science collaboration is the New Silk Road Alliance of Law Schools, which Prof. Nuotio has knowledge since the Alliance’s infancy. He recalled that during his visit to Xi’an Jiaotong University in 2014 to give the opening lecture of a Silk Road-related seminar, there was a discussion between him and the then-Dean of Faculty of Law of Xi’an Jiaotong University Wenhua Shan. During the talk for furthering cooperation between Chinese and foreign law schools, the idea of some new arrangement was developed. After some further exchanges and preparation especially on the Chinese side, the alliance was launched in 2015. From the start, the alliance aimed at bringing together high-quality Chinese and foreign law schools and having a regular platform for exchange of ideas and possible collaborations. Each year, the Alliance would hold Dean Meetings (such as the ones in 2016) as well as other academic conferences to discuss BRI-related topics.

Prof. Kimmo Nuotio signing the documents, bringing the University of Helsinki Faculty of Law in to the New Silk Road Law School Alliance in 2015.

The publication “Normative Readings of the Belt and Road Initiative” is the direct result of the conferences. This book is an early reflection of the legal aspects in BRI. In Prof. Nuotio’s opinion, BRI is mainly a foreign policy concept, but it is interesting to conduct research on this policy, as the legal aspect of BRI comprises of not only Chinese law, but also international law, especially rules regarding how China deals with its neighbours, how the BRI investments are made and are protected by legal regimes. He also mentioned the reason for this publication is to make the best use of materials published in the conferences, as he believe that all collaborations should be serious and should result in some sort of published works, so that the world at large also can read about the results of the academic collaborations.

“Normative Readings of the Belt and Road Initiative” offers normative readings on China’s master plan on foreign affairs, in the context of China as the rising power Covers fields including legal philosophy, Chinese philosophy, labor protection, financial mechanism, environmental protection and other non-trade aspects of the BRI Written for researchers and governmental actors.

General Experience of collaboration with Chinese scholars and institutions

Talking about his experience in China, Prof. Nuotio is very positive about his collaboration as well as visits in general. His recent seminar in Peking University on sexual offences was a success. The proceedings of the seminar, including Prof. Nuotio’s presentation and responses from the audience was recently published online (in Chinese), which Prof. Nuotio is very pleased to hear about. For him, although scholars are often responsible for high-level abstract knowledge production, there must be some groundwork done in order for the legal systems to develop. He also noticed that despite the geographical differences, discussions about problems arising from the legal systems of different countries, such as China and Finland, are almost always the same, thus comparative studies would play a vital role in assisting the development of legal systems.

Prof. Kimmo Nuotio sharing the Finnish experience in development of criminal law concerning sexual offences in Peking University in 2019.

From there, Prof. Nuotio also spoke about his general perception about collaboration with Chinese scholars and institutions in general. He regarded Chinese scholars highly for their openness and frankness. As a criminal law professor, he reckoned that sometimes society has wicked problems that must be confronted and solved, and scholars must be able to openly and freely discuss these problems. He noted the importance of scholars to be able to speak and exchange ideas freely, as only honest and frank exchanges among scholars are meaningful and productive.  He also noted the huge differences in social and political systems between Finland and China, and thought that it is the scholars of that legal system to solve their respective problems with their own ways. The academic exchanges were, in his opinion, rather to tell about experiences on how the respective sides have dealt with the problems commonly faced, and what are the reflections of developments or policies concerned.

Background of Prof. Kimmo Nuotio

Prof. Kimmo Nuotio is a renowned legal scholar with Chinese collaboration experience. He is currently the professor of criminal law at University of Helsinki and is chairing the Strategic Research Council. Previously, he was the Dean of the Law Faculty at University of Helsinki between 2010–2017, and was also the chair of the board of China Law Center between 2013–2019. He also has experience in collaboration with Chinese scholars and working with Chinese materials, including several seminars given at Chinese universities and academic institutions, as well as a journal article on comparative perspectives between Finnish and Chinese law — “the transformation of criminal law and criminal law theory in Finland and China”. He also recently edited a book concerning the Belt and Road Initiative — “Normative Readings of the Belt and Road Initiative”. He was also appointed as a member of Peking University Law School’s new Global Faculty in 2018.

An interview with Prof. Kimmo Nuotio (Part I): The development of the China Law Center from its infancy

 

Introduction to this blog post

In this two-part blog post, we would be reporting on the interview of Prof. Kimmo Nuotio, done by our research assistant, Ngor Sin. In the interview, Prof. Nuotio talked about how the China Law Center was first conceived and subsequently established, followed by his participation in the scholarly efforts on the Belt and Road Initiative and New Silk Road Law Schools alliance. Lastly, Prof. Nuotio recalled his personal experience and views on collaboration with Chinese scholars. Part II can be found here.

The first part of this interview blog post would cover Prof. Nuotio’s experience with the China Law Center, as well as his personal opinion on the impact and development of the work done by the  Center. In the second part, we would cover Prof. Nuotio’s participation in collaboration with Chinese scholars in general, as well as his recent involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative scholarly efforts and the New Silk Road Alliance of Law Schools.

The birth of China Law Center

Prof. Nuotio first recalled how the idea of establishing the China Law Center came about. In 2009, the Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS Law) and the Academy of Finland agreed to collaborate in the field of comparative law, related to rule of law topics. Such collaboration resulted in several comparative law conferences held among Finnish and Chinese legal scholars, which has become a tradition since. Details of the conferences are reported on our blog: 2019, 2018, 2017).

According to Prof. Nuotio, the actual plan of building a China Law Center has been materialised in 2012-2013. Given the increase in collaboration, it has been noted that a coordinating unit between Finnish institutions and Chinese institutions is needed. Therefore, around 2012, discussions regarding the establishment of such unit initiated among the Finnish institutions, and the Center was formally launched in 2013. While the Center is based at the University of Helsinki, the whole Sino-Finnish collaboration, including the establishment of the Center, is a joint effort among all the Finnish institutions, which eventually become members of the Center.

Representatives of the Center, the Academy of Finland and the Faculty of Law of University of Helsinki visited Peking University Law School in 2013

Impact and other Thoughts about the China Law Center

On the questions regarding the impact of the China Law Center on Sino-Finnish collaboration, Prof. Nuotio is very positive about the Center’s work. He referred the Center as a national center for coordination of Sino-Finnish research efforts in legal sciences. Another notable achievement that the Center has obtained would be the China Law Center collection, which has been built with the assistance of the Center’s Chinese partners, notably Faculty of Law of Peking University, and is currently hosted by the University of Helsinki Library.

On the impacts that the China Law Center might have been exerting on the scholarly scene, Prof. Nuotio noted that research efforts are usually not easily quantifiable. Instead, it is the existence of the China Law Center that leads to many other possible Sino-Finnish collaboration. In his opinion, the China Law Center presents an alternative to the Chinese scholars on possible collaboration partners and opportunities. Through the Center, Chinese scholars have started to explore European and particularly Nordic legal tradition. Although the Center is not the only European institution engaging the same kind of work, it is the first one in the Nordic countries.

CASS President and delegation visiting the China Law Center in 2017

Prof. Nuotio remarked that the China Law Center is like a baby that he has built from scratch, since he has been involved in the establishment of the Center, and later was also heavily involved in the strategic development of the China Law Center. He is now very happy to see the Center’s current development and that it is very active in Sino-Finnish collaboration. He is also please to notice that every member institution of the Center is making the best use of the Center, and hope that this will continue under the new leadership of the Center’s Board.

In the next part, we will talk about Prof. Nuotio’s personal experience in Chinese collaborations and his recent involvement the Belt and Road Initiative-related projects.

Background of Prof. Kimmo Nuotio

Prof. Kimmo Nuotio is a renowned legal scholar with Chinese collaboration experience. He is currently the professor of criminal law at University of Helsinki and is chairing the Strategic Research Council. Previously, he was the Dean of the Law Faculty at University of Helsinki between 2010–2017, and was also the chair of the board of China Law Center between 2013–2019. He also has experience in collaboration with Chinese scholars and working with Chinese materials, including several seminars given at Chinese universities and academic institutions, as well as a journal article on comparative perspectives between Finnish and Chinese law — “the transformation of criminal law and criminal law theory in Finland and China”. He also recently edited a book concerning the Belt and Road Initiative — “Normative Readings of the Belt and Road Initiative”. He was also appointed as a member of Peking University Law School’s new Global Faculty in 2018.

Sanna Kopra and the Quest to Understand China’s Climate Politics and Arctic Agenda

Global warming and climate change is a topic that we see and hear about on a regular basis. When discussing climate change, it is impossible not to mention China. Sanna Kopra is a post-doctoral researcher in the Arctic Centre located in the University of Lapland and a visiting scholar in the Aleksanteri Institute located in the University of Helsinki and she has conducted extensive research into China in relation to climate change. Before examining her current activities in more detail, let’s revise her impressive academic history in the field of China.

Sanna has been interested in China for a lengthy period. Her interest was first sparked during her undergraduate studies, when she minored in Asian studies through the Finnish University Network for Asian Studies. “China had just become the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and it protested all attempts at setting emission reductions for developing countries. I examined China’s rhetoric in international climate discussions in my undergraduate thesis and this is something that still intrigues me”, Sanna reveals.

In addition to researching and studying China, Sanna has studied Chinese both in Finland as well as in China. Originally, Sanna envisioned taking advantage of her Chinese skills in her studies, but when her research developed and became more theoretical, there was no immediate need to utilize materials in Chinese. “For that reason, my Chinese skills have become more passive. In terms of my research, this is fine, as I’m interested in China’s role in international politics rather than China’s domestic policies”, Sanna observes.

Sanna has undeniably been active in her China studies. She obtained her doctoral degree in 2016. Her doctoral dissertation focused on China and the International Practice of Climate Responsibility. In addition to being a board member at the Finnish Peace Research Association, she is also a board member at the Nordic Association for China Studies.

Sanna Kopra (to the right) receiving the award for her paper on ‘China and International Climate Responsibility: Agency and Institutional Change.’ Photo credit: Liisa Kauppila.

All of her hard work in researching China and climate responsibility has certainly paid off. She won the International Studies Association English School Section’s Outstanding Research Paper Award last spring in the Junior Scholar category for her paper on ‘China and International Climate Responsibility: Agency and Institutional Change.’ Sanna divulges: “Barry Buzan, one of the gurus in the field, commented on the paper: ‘well done, read more, and carry on’. This alone was very reassuring for a young researcher like myself, but the award was the icing on the cake!”

Sanna has also recently published her first book named ‘China and Great Power Responsibility for Climate Change’, which deepens her earlier work on China and climate responsibility.

“Environmental responsibility is a meaningful way for China to define great power responsibility, and thereby legitimize itself as a great power. Although China has several domestic reasons to control climate change, Beijing is also unwilling to sacrifice its economic interests for the environmental good. This is why the European Union has a significant role – with ambitious climate politics the EU can encourage China to take even bigger responsibility”, Sanna discloses.

Cover of Sanna Kopra’s book, “China and Great Power Responsibility for Climate Change” (Routledge 2018). Picture credit: www.routledge.com.

The withdrawal of the USA from the Paris Agreement, and people’s increasing interest in the environment and sustainable development in general, underline the fact that Sanna’s book concentrates on an exceedingly current topic. Sanna flashes that she could even consider writing another book one day, but about China’s Arctic politics.

Indeed, several countries are interested in the Arctic and their resources, and China is no exception. One indication of China’s interest in the region is China receiving an observer status in the Arctic Council. This means that even though China has no voting rights, it can now participate in the Arctic Council as an observer country. Furthermore, the Arctic is “an important region for environmental sciences and China is interested in knowing how Arctic climate change can influence China in relation to food safety and weather phenomena, to name a few”, Sanna explains.

The Academy of Finland recently awarded Sanna with a three-year grant for her research on the rise of China and the normative transformation in the Arctic region in spring 2018. She is currently examining how the rise of China is shaping the processes in which notions of responsibility are defined, allocated and operationalized in the Arctic.

“While China’s Arctic interests have been studied a great deal, most of that research has failed to consider which values and norms actually guide China’s Arctic activities, or how China’s growing role in the area challenges the already existing norms and practices in the Arctic areas”, Sanna clarifies. This is what her current research delves into.

Sanna Kopra on a research exchange in Tromsø, Norway. Photo credit: Sanna Kopra.

When asked about her 2018 highlights, her response is immediate: publishing her first book and receiving a grant from the Academy of Finland. 2019 has also started memorably, as she is spending the first couple of months on a research exchange at the University of Tromsø in Norway. “I hope to learn a lot about Arctic politics and I look forward to meeting new people. I also wish to see amazing scenery – despite the polar night!”

China’s New Food Safety Law a ‘Milestone’ in China’s Legislative Reforms: Dr Harriet Lonka, University of Eastern Finland

China’s new Food Safety Law was issued in 2009 and revised in 2015. For Post-Doctoral Researcher Harriet Lonka, the chance to be a visiting scholar at Peking University Law School and research this important legislative reform was an opportunity not to be missed.

Dr Harriet Lonka, from Finnish China Law Center member institution the University of Eastern Finland (UEF), was a visiting Post-Doctoral Researcher at Peking University from 1 October to 17 November 2017.

The highly respected Peking University is a key strategic partner of the Finnish Center of Chinese Law and Chinese Legal Culture, as detailed in the recently published Report on the First Four Years of the Center.

‘My research in China focused on the new Chinese Food Safety Law. This legislation is an important milestone in China’s legislative reforms and also a key issue concerning trade policy and China’s relations with its international trade partners, especially the WTO’.

During her time in Peking University Law School, Dr Lonka worked closely with Chinese legal scholar Professor Chen Yifeng.

Professor Chen is also a Docent at the University of Helsinki and played a key role in establishing and growing the Finnish China Law Center.

Dr Lonka has a long background in the field of risk management studies, and during her PhD studies she studied the Finnish government’s Security Strategy work and how it effects the shaping of legislation.

‘Chinese Food Safety legislation is comparable in its target and format to the risk regulation tradition in Europe and in Finland’, Dr Lonka says.

‘In my current research, I focus on the aspects of the implementation of the law that have been identified as potential ‘Achilles heels’ of enforcement of the Food Safety Law in China’.

Dr Lonka believes that there are new and interesting challenges in applying measures of risk surveillance, risk management and risk communication at different levels of administration in China.

Post-Doctoral Researcher Dr Harriet Lonka (University of Eastern Finland), during her study visit to Peking University Law School, 2017

Given the angle of her research, she envisages many more opportunities for fruitful research cooperation with Chinese colleagues in the future.

Dr Lonka’s research was also supported by the fact that she had contacts to the local level administration and foodstuff producers in Hunan Province, which enabled useful data collection in the field.

The opportunity to conduct research not only in Beijing, but also in Hunan Province, was beneficial in many respects, Dr Lonka says.

‘My study visit provided me a lot of important background knowledge and new understanding of Chinese legislation, how it is created and implemented. This is of great interest to me as my own research field is legislative studies. Legislative studies concentrate on how laws are drafted and implemented and what defines their effect’.

One area of particular interest to Dr Lonka is the question of ‘decentralized development’ in China.

‘I would wish to better understand the structures and mechanisms for guidance and supervision from the central government level to provinces and further to the local level in China’.

‘The study of Chinese Food Safety Law provides an excellent case study to scrutinize these phenomena. I think this research focus can help us in general better understand the ‘many faces of China’ and how that effects the legislative processes and implementation of the administrative laws in the country’.

Dr Lonka is grateful for financial support from the Finnish China Law Center and the Saastamoinen Foundation, and for the support of her Finnish supervisors: Professor Ulla Liukkunen from the University of Helsinki / Finnish China Law Center, and Professors Anssi Keinänen and Katja Lindroos from UEF.