Chinese authorities are well aware how governments and bar organizations around the world feel about their fierce crackdown on human-rights lawyers. But the country’s commercial lawyers—including international firms active in China—have been relatively quiet. Why so? The American Lawyer reports.
According to “In China’s crackdown on rights lawyers, big law says little” published by the American Lawyer, the crackdown on China’s human-rights lawyers exposes the divide between the country’s commercial lawyers and weiquan, or rights-defending, lawyers. Speaking out against the government’s decision to arrest more than 200 Chinese human rights lawyers and associated staffers represents career suicide for commercial lawyers in a legal environment where most of the country’s largest companies—and most sought-after clients—are still state-controlled despite two decades of private sector growth. Following years of political struggles and movements, individual commercial success is celebrated. “These people are not likely to rock the boat,” a China-based U.S. lawyer is quoted as saying, adding that the market has become so competitive law firms put a priority on maintaining good relationships with the government. Another China-based U.S. lawyer interviewed said that although “human rights is important … following the party and the government is what makes you big money.” This lawyer adds that individual lawyers are more likely to petition key contacts at high levels rather than raise a fuss publicly: “They hear us out but usually tell us that the rule of law will be followed. But China’s version of the rule of law is creating a perception that there is none.”
American Lawyer staff reporting: The Asian Lawyer, published by the American Lawyer on July 24, 2015
China’s crackdown on human rights lawyers has prompted governments and bar organizations around the world to express concern and support for the detained Chinese attorneys. But China’s flourishing corporate bar—including the international firms active in China—has been relatively quiet.
In the spate of arrests, which began on July 9, more than 200 Chinese human rights lawyers and associated staffers have been detained by the Chinese government, with more than a dozen still in custody at press time. The global firms’ lack of public response highlights a split between commercial lawyers and weiquan, or rights-defending, lawyers, who are usually criminal defense attorneys for the disadvantaged—dissident intellectuals, reporters, lawyers and civil rights supporters, but mostly ordinary Chinese citizens engaged in disputes with government.