The Rules of the (Belt and) Road: How Lawyers Participate in China's Outbound Investment and Infrastructure Initiatives
29 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2021
Date Written: July 31, 2021
This article provides a bottom-up view of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) though an empirical examination of how and why domestic lawyers are engaged in BRI investment and infrastructure projects. Drawing on an original dataset of biographical information of, and eleven semi-structured interviews with, lawyers identified by the state as “BRI and Cross-Border Legal Experts,” I examine these lawyers’ demographic characteristics, the knowledge they rely upon in their work, and their motivations. I find that China’s BRI lawyers work and speak in ways similar to cross-border lawyers from countries like the United States. At the same time, these state-adjacent professionals acknowledge the state’s heavy involvement in crafting the environment surrounding their work. Although these politics do not necessarily affect the technical aspects of their practice, many keep close tabs on BRI policies, some are involved in policy reform efforts, and most express pride in what a successful BRI might mean for China’s future.
In addition to contributing to sociolegal scholarship interested in the legal profession’s role in (re-)crafting dominant global scripts, I suggest that the day-to-day work of legal professionals serves as a barometer of the intentions and successes of Chinese state policy. For now, my portrait of China’s BRI lawyers suggests that they largely adhere to the existing script’s understanding of norms and best practices, and see their work as complementary to the existing system rather than subversive. Nonetheless, I urge continued focus on BRI lawyers and the other on-the-ground actors that make China’s foreign policy a reality.
Keywords: legal profession, trade and investment, law and globalization, China, BRI
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