Rule of Law, Democracy and the Sequencing Debate: Lessons from China and Vietnam

18 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2009

See all articles by Randall Peerenboom

Randall Peerenboom

La Trobe University - Faculty of Law and Management; Oxford University - Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

Date Written: August 10, 2009


Sequencing has recently become a bad word in development circles. Tom Carothers has led the charge with his article “How Democracies Emerge: The ‘Sequencing' Fallacy.” In 2008, the Commission of Legal Empowerment of the Poor, co-chaired by Hernando de Soto and Madeleine Albright, also took issue with the notion that economic and institutional development, including the establishment of the rule of law and a functional legal system, should precede democratization, while asserting that democracy and legal empowerment should be synchronized rather than sequenced.

At the same time, and somewhat paradoxically, academic commentators as well as leading practitioners in the rule of law promotion and law and development industries repeatedly emphasize among the “lessons learned” the complexities of reforms and that developing states lack the resources, institutions and capacity to address all of the pressing issues at once. Accordingly, the prioritization and sequencing of reforms are as inevitable as they are necessary if reforms are to succeed.

Part I suggests the empirical evidence, both globally and from Asia, supports the approach of first promoting economic development and institutional building. The democracy or development first debate is however only one sequencing issue, and not what most practitioners mean when they point to the holistic nature of reforms or the need for sequencing of reforms.

Accordingly, Part II examines other sequencing issues. One macro level debate centers on economic policies and models of development, pitting shock therapy, neoliberalism, and the Washington Consensus against gradualism, the developmental state and the Beijing consensus, or more accurately, the East Asian Model (EAM). Another involves the need in failed or post-conflict states to prioritize peacekeeping and security relative to promulgation of new laws and institution-building. Still another highlights the need to sequence reforms in a way that balances judicial independence with judicial accountability. There is also the debate over whether to emphasize aggregate development or promote rights-based sustainable development.

Suggested Citation

Peerenboom, Randall, Rule of Law, Democracy and the Sequencing Debate: Lessons from China and Vietnam (August 10, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Randall Peerenboom (Contact Author)

La Trobe University - Faculty of Law and Management ( email )

Department of Economics and Finance
Victoria 3552, 3086

Oxford University - Centre for Socio-Legal Studies

St. Cross Building
St. Cross Road
Oxford, OX1 3UJ
United Kingdom

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