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.
CASS Law delegation in Finland
The value of the seminar as a vehicle for meaningful legal collaboration and comparative law exchange was underscored by the visit of six academics from a leading Chinese research and education institution, the Chinese Academy of Social Science (CASS) Institute of Law. These distinguished academics included the Director of the Institute of Law, Professor Li Lin, and Professor Xie Zengyi.
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 first legal field to be discussed was child law. This involved presentations by Associate Professor Suvianna Hakalehto from the University of Eastern Finland and Professor Xie Zengyi from the CASS Institute of Law. University Lecturer Dr. Niina Mäntylä, from the University of Vaasa, added comments and stimulated a lively discussion on children’s rights at school and China’s ‘Two Child Policy’.
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.