Based in the Faculty of Law of the University of Eastern Finland, a member institution of the Finnish China Law Center, Professor Hakalehto gave a presentation titled ‘From Social Problem to Rights Holders: Development of Children’s Rights in legislation and in legal research in Finland’.
According to Professor Hakalehto, the conference proved an excellent opportunity to discuss in-depth a range of issues of critical, and growing, importance to both China and the Nordic countries.
‘China is grappling with many of the same challenges as Finland the Nordic countries, including how to fully respect the rights and interests of children’, Professor Hakalehto says. ‘The chance to meet and share knowledge with Chinese colleagues working on these issues proved beneficial to both sides, and provided an enlightening comparative framework through which to develop the law and policies of our respective countries’.
A child law and education law scholar, Professor Hakalehto is a member of the Scientific Committee of the Center and one of her forthcoming projects with the Center concerns the position of migrant children in China.
‘Contemporary Chinese welfare ideology and policies aim at negotiating and merging the traditional family concept and beliefs expressing a hundred years’ development and the modern civilization of late’, Professor Hakalehto says.
‘For me, learning about the Chinese legal system and the country’s child protection paradigm has been personally enriching and professionally rewarding’, says Professor Hakalehto. ‘I hope to contribute to the Chinese discussion about the legal position of children’.
During her visit in October 2017 to the Center, Professor Hakalehto met Professor Lu Zhian, a Professor of Law at the Fudan University School of Law.
One of China’s leading scholars in the field, Professor Zhian invited Professor Hakalehto to Fudan University in 2018 to lecture on human rights in the school environment.
‘This is a great opportunity, and I look forward to another exciting visit to China and to learning more about the Chinese legal system and Chinese cultural generally’, Professor Hakalehto says.
The theme for the seminar was ‘Juvenile Offenders in China and Finland’.
The Chinese delegation was headed by Mr. Li Xuesong, Vice President of the High People’s Court of Yunnan Province. Mr Lu Xiaokun, Chief Judge of the High People’s Court of Yunnan Province, was also a member of the delegation.
During his presentation, Vice President Li underscored that the treatment of children and the centrality of the ‘best interests of the child’ principle are paramount. ‘Governments everywhere’, he said, ‘should take care of children and strive to create better conditions, including educational opportunities, to promote the healthy development of youth’. Vice President Li also emphasized that the treatment of juvenile offenders by the criminal justice system was an issue the Yunnan legal system takes very seriously. Yunnan province has advanced the protection of children in its criminal justice system in a number of ways. ‘For example’, Vice President Li said, ‘we are strengthening judicial institutions and training judges to better deal with juvenile justice issues…and constantly innovating to improve the treatment of children in the court system’.
Professors Nuotio and Lappi-Seppälä noted that while there were differences between the Chinese and Finnish approaches to juvenile offenders, the similarities in terms of underlying principles and many aspects of the treatment of juveniles in court were notable.
During his presentation, Lappi-Seppälä gave an overview of the ‘Nordic’ model of the treatment of juvenile offenders, noting that the state criminal justice system operates independently alongside municipal child protection services, with the primary emphasis in dealing with juvenile crime lying with child welfare and social services.
Professor Lappi-Seppälä noted that the criminal justice system and child welfare institutions operated under different principles. ‘Child welfare interventions are undertaken under the principle of the ‘best interests of the child’, Professor Lappi-Seppälä observed. ‘All such interventions are supportive and criminal acts have little or no formal role. In contrast, on the ‘criminal justice side’, specific penalties applicable to juveniles are restricted – but now expanding – and the general structure is as follows: diversion, fines, community alternatives, and the finally, custody’.
During their presentation, Professors Nuotio and Lappi-Seppälä shared a number of statistics about juvenile offenders in Finland. Of particular interest to the Chinese judges was the fact that at present, there are only five children aged 15-17 in custody in Finland, a figure so low that it also surprised those more familiar with Finland’s legal system.
The importance of the visit to Finland by senior judges should not be underestimated. The delegation visited Finland to learn from its experience because of Finland’s, and more generally the Nordic region’s, international reputation in reducing the total number and proportion of juvenile offenders, and to reducing to virtually zero the number of children in custody. As Professor Nuotio noted, the population of Yunnan province, at close to 50 million, was around double that of the all the Nordic countries together. Given the size of Yunnan province, even a small change in judicial practice, therefore, would affect the lives of a great many children.
On 28-29 August 2017, the Finnish Center of Chinese Law and Chinese Legal Culture organized the 8th Sino-Finnish Bilateral Seminar on Comparative Law. The seminar is held annually and its location alternates between China and Finland. This year the seminar was hosted by two of the Finnish China Law Center’s member institutions, the University of Helsinki and University of Tampere.
Both of these well-respected academics have had long connections with the Finnish China Law Center. The seminar also brought together researchers from universities across Finland, including active representation and participation from most of the Center’s 10 member institutions.
Strengthening Finnish – and Nordic – bilateral cooperation
According to Professor Li Lin, this year’s seminar was a ‘tremendous success’. A sentiment repeated throughout the seminar was the importance of further deepening legal education and research collaboration between not just Finland and China, but China and other Nordic countries.
As was underscored by Professor Li Lin, Professor Kimmo Nuotio, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Helsinki, and Professor Ulla Liukkunen, Director of the Finnish China Law Center, the long and rich historical relationship between Finland and China provides fertile ground in which deepening cooperation can flourish.
The importance of strengthening bilateral legal education and research between Finland and China transcends the historical connections linking the two countries.
Professor Li Lin highlighted four key areas of mutual concern. First, there is significant alignment between China’s values and ideas and the concept of solidarity in the Nordic context. Second, there is overlap between the goals of China and Finland’s social security systems, with China seeking to actively learn from the Nordic welfare model. Third, environmental rights are an area of mutual concern, with China transitioning towards ‘Green China’ and emphasizing the importance of having an ‘ecological civilization’. And fourth, the rule of law, human rights and judicial cooperation are areas of joint interest.
While China’s legal system has changed significantly in these respects, there ‘still remains much to be done’, Professor Li Lin said.
Seminar co-organizer Professor Jukka Viljanen from the University of Tampere echoed these thoughts. He observed that it is important that we recognize Finland and China face common issues, which can be fruitfully approached from a comparative law perspective.
The seminar tradition is not simply a unique opportunity for the robust exchange of views on areas of mutual concern. Rather, it has also been a practical forum that may result in new bilateral research projects, like the one on law and gender, as Professor Liukkunen underscored.
In China, the bilateral seminars and resulting collaboration impacted on policy-making. Professor Li Lin noted that ‘the exchange of knowledge, experience and expertise have manifested themselves in reports that have influenced Chinese decision makers’.
‘So while this is an academic platform’, Professor Li Lin said, ‘it has a practical impact on development of rule of law in China and its modernization. It has a real impact’.
Among other concrete proposals for expanding the relationship between CASS and the member institutions of the Finnish China Law Center, Professor Li Lin said CASS’s new university provides an additional ‘platform to further expand our cooperation’.
Thematic areas of the seminar
This year’s seminar covered four legal fields. Focusing on such a multidimensional spectrum of issues provided rich opportunities for comparative assessments. Comparisons were made not just between Finnish and Chinese law and legal practice, but with the Nordic legal model more broadly.
The second thematic area covered was transport law. Professor Ellen Eftestöl-Wilhelmsson from the University of Helsinki spoke on the role of environmental information in promoting a sustainable transport industry. Associate Professor Li Zhong from the CASS Institute of Law gave an overview of developments in Chinese transport law in China. Lastly, Professor Lena Sisula-Tulokas adroitly drew out common themes, parallels and challenges facing both Finland and the Nordic countries.
A third thematic area analyzed was public procurement. University Lecturer Dr Kristian Siikavirta shared his knowledge of the European and Finnish public procurement systems and how they work based on his research at the University of Vaasa.
Associate Professor Wang Xiaomei presented her impressively data-driven research undertaken in the CASS Institute of Law into transparency in public procurement in China. In her comments, Post-Doctoral Researcher Dr. Zhang Yihong, based in the University of Helsinki, identified broader political/legal implications of the presentations and highlighted areas of further research.
Environmental law was the final area to be discussed. This was clearly a field of significant mutual interest. Professor Antti Belinskij, based at the University of Eastern Finland, discussed international Water Conventions and Finnish-Russian cooperation. Professor Li Honglei from the CASS Institute of Law spoke on judicial review of environmental impact assessment decision-making in China. In summing up, Dr Yulia Yamineva drew upon her experience as a Senior Researcher in the University of Eastern Finland and provided comments drawing together both comparative and international law dimensions.
Other presentations on environmental law were given by Professor Jukka Viljanen, who enlightened listeners on the environmental right in the Finnish constitution. Professor Viljanen’s talk provided a departure point for another visiting CASS Institute of Law researcher, Associate Professor Jin Shanming, to reflect on the constitutional protection of environmental rights in China. University Teacher Heta Heiskanen from the University of Tampere then highlighted how international human rights obligations contribute to environmental rights in Finland. Finally, Post-Doctoral Researcher Sanna Kopra from the University of Lapland identified key comparative law insights that formed the basis of a subject of lively discussion among participants on environmental rights in China and Finland.
Upcoming book publication
Reflecting the high quality of speeches and discussions over the two days, presentations given during the seminar will form the basis for chapters in an upcoming book to be published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The annual bilateral seminars play an important role in building legal research and education links between Finland and China. With such positive outcomes, this year’s seminar paves the way for future opportunities for Finnish and Chinese universities and research institutions to collaborate.
As Professor Liukkunen emphasized in her closing remarks, the seminar again highlighted the relevance of comparative law including the growing significance of the Nordic model in Chinese policy and academic circles.
‘We make comparisons’, Professor Liukkunen concluded. ‘We must realize that what appear to be similar can in fact be different. We need to have tools and equip ourselves to deal with obstacles and challenges in this undertaking, for which this seminar is a unique setting’.
Next year’s bilateral comparative law seminar will be held in China.