This is my part of one email with a Chinese postgraduate student in China who was discussing with me how they could use legal research to improve the situation of people in her country by improving the rule of law. I have several enquiries each year from researchers in China interested in reform of the criminal law or criminal justice. I explain in this email why, over the years, my view of cooperation with China has changed from hostile to supporting positive engagement. I had been opposed to the Chinese regime since the massacre of the students at Tiananmen Square in 1989 (I bought and read the Amnesty International report at the time), and as a supporter of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people.

To retain their anonymity I have removed content that could identify the other person in the dialogue.

24 December 2011


Thank you for your Christmas greetings and I hope that you and your family have a good Christmas and that you enjoy the mid-Winter festive period.

I owe you replies to two emails. The first, that you sent at the end of November, about politics, and a more recent one about legal articles.

I would like to discuss politics with you more but I do not know how wise that is in your situation. Also we both have to concentrate on our work of course.

I am an opponent of the regime in your country and therefore used to disagree with cooperation with China. I changed my mind for four reasons. Firstly, I changed my opinion on cooperation with China (if not the authorities) after one of my very best students a few years ago was a Chinese student, this showed me that students could benefit from cooperation.

Secondly, I used to boycott goods made in China but this became impossible – partly because firms would not say where products were made and partly because so much of our basic necessities and consumer goods are now made in China. It became impossible to not buy Chinese goods. This may change. Sixty years ago (or longer) goods all round the World were made in Britain. Forty years ago goods were made in Hong Kong, then later Taiwan, electronic goods were all made in Japan, then Taiwan, then South Korea, then nearly all of this production moved to China. Goods are made in India or other Asian countries and used to be made in Western or Eastern Europe.

Thirdly, our prosperity through wealthy years in the West in the 1990s / 2000s for many people has entirely depended on China so it is hypocritical to try and pretend this can be avoided. It annoyed me greatly that British companies, and banks invested without any care about human rights or oppression, but they did – and at least more beneficially than the British exploitation of the Opium Wars in the time of Queen Victoria. At the same time trade, as well as some of your Government policies over decades, has led to improved living standards and an improved quality of life for millions of Chinese people, so our fortunes are interlinked. Our prosperity has depended on China because it made goods cheap to buy for people here compared with the decades before, though Liverpool has always had links with China and I see the historical importance for my city. Now the production of those goods may move again to India or to other south east Asian countries, or to Brazil or even to Africa. I think Chinese entrepreneurs and the state are doing what wise businesses in Japan and Taiwan did when they invested in China. China is investing in these other countries, but if your growth slows and if jobs move abroad then that could have a very negative effect on poor and middle class people in China. It is important that your Government guards against this by planning in advance for change to help people. It is important for the whole World that we help China because if China falters it will damage our economies and living standards. Already China and Russia have had to help the EU. There is a new movement in this country in support of self-sufficiency and local production (a popular campaign among socially aware people, a social and environmental view, an attitude change for many). The West needs China though. China is the most important country in the World and cannot be ignored.

Finally, you had a devastating earthquake a few years ago. These terrible disasters always bring the best out in people and bring people closer together. At the time I made a small donation to the Chinese embassy fund here for the disaster relief. I know many British people gave money as well as our Government supporting the very effective work of your Government.

There seems to me to be an attitude where criminal justice scholars in China want to be actively involved in improving the situation for ordinary people in China – improving justice and improving conditions – in line with the wording of your constitution. Scholars appear eager to learn from other countries but to implement improvements in a way that is suitable in China. This seems very sensible to me, and exciting. It is something that I would like to be involved in because China is so important and because there is the scope for relatively much bigger improvements to be made there than here, so the work is more worthwhile. At the same time we can learn from rapid improvement in China as elsewhere to improve things in Britain. So I hope to work with yourself and other scholars in the future. Of course I cannot do any of this directly myself as I can only speak English.

Do concentrate on your studies as here getting the PhD is the most important first step.

Good luck,