Can China’s international courts meet the challenge of the country’s global ambitions?

by Sylvie Zhuang at

As Chinese President Xi Jinping celebrated the 10th anniversary of his pet project – the Belt and Road Initiative – in October, a massive enterprise was under way to ensure the country’s legal system was up to the task of meeting the initiative’s geopolitical needs.
One such requirement was the ability to handle an increasing number of foreign-related business disputes – a natural result of global trade. More international commercial courts have therefore been created, in a move that is also hoped will help forge a better relationship with the global community.

Over the past three years, 12 such municipal-level courts, carrying the mission of “a stable, fair, transparent and predictable legal environment” for both Chinese and foreign businesspeople, have popped up in China’s major economic hubs – and more are expected.

Observers say that creating such courts indicates Beijing’s commitment to integrate into the global economy amid intensifying rivalries with Washington and its allies, and a challenging international environment.

But they have warned more improvements are needed, as constitutional limitations like no foreign judges, an overall lack of expertise in foreign-related law and the potential interference of the ruling Communist Party cast doubts on the courts’ impartiality and independence.