…building a digital law discipline… is an effective exploration of Chinese law leading world law, and path construction is the top priority of digital law construction.

Cai Lidong, Vice President and Law Professor, Jilin University; Standing Committee Member, Jilin University Party Committee

The political-legal arm of China’s national-level digital strategy, Digital China, got a boost with the opening of a new Digital Law Teaching and Research Center at Renmin University Law School, according to an April 7th report by the Central Committee-supervised newspaper Legal Daily. Beijing’s goal to develop “digital rule of law” and a digitally-transformed judicial system (Smart Courts et al) is driven by Digital China and falls into one of the strategy’s five “spheres,” namely Digital Government. Digital China’s “spheres” roughly equate to the “ways” in Western strategy construction.

The opening ceremony for the new Digital Law Teaching and Research Center at Renmin University Law School (中国人民大学法学院数字法学教研中心) focused on efforts to organize the new field of digital law in China. Interesting in itself, but even more so when placed in the context of the following three geopolitical/ideological themes that also make appearances in the same article (and happen to track – not surprisingly – the Party narrative on global digital governance).

First, the Legal Daily article highlights the importance of building/shaping the international legal regime governing cyberspace, central to the Party narrative on global digital governance. For example, Zhang Jiyu, Associate Professor and Executive Director of the Law and Technology Institute at Renmin University Law School, was quoted at the opening ceremony saying, “[she hopes the new center]…is able to better serve construction of Digital China and construction of the international [digital legal] order (能更好服务于数字中国建设与国际秩序的构建).”

Second, the Legal Daily article highlights what an active role in building/shaping global digital governance looks like. Professor Cai Lidong said in his speech at the center’s opening ceremony that, “building a digital law discipline is an important measure to promote building a new liberal art, and it is also an effective exploration of Chinese law leading world law, and path construction is the top priority of digital law construction… (数字法学学科的建设是助推新文科建设的重要举措,也是中国法学引领世界法学有效的探索,而路径建设是数字法学建设的重中之重).”

Third, Legal Daily reminds us that the Party’s view of digital governance passes through an ideological lens: Xi Jinping Thought. For example, Jiang Wei, Vice President of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and Vice President of the China Law Society (CLS), said in his speech at the opening ceremony that, “[he expects that the new center]… will be “guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era.”

Legal Daily highlighted two speeches in particular at the opening ceremony both gisted below, although the entire article is well worth reading if you have a deeper interest in China’s development of digital law:

Jiang Wei, SPC and CLS Vice President, highlighted in his speech that the new research center responded to Digital China’s requirement to construct (digital) rule of law (回应了数字中国对法治建设的要求). He added that opening the center has “great significance” with three expectations: (1) The Center will be “guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era,” (2) The Center will “adapt to the requirements of constructing Digital China and Rule of Law China (适应数字中国和法治中国建设要求)” and (3) The Center will “follow the objective laws of digital governance (遵循数字治理的客观规律).” Jiang Wei added that the SPC hopes to strengthen academic cooperation with Renmin University Law School to explore rules for litigation, adjudication, and mediation that meet the needs of the digital age.

Zhang Wenxian, a member of the CLS Party Leadership Group and director of the CLS Academic Committee, highlighted in his speech the disordered state of digital law research in China, noting that it focused on individual digital technologies rather than building digital rule of law. Zhang proposed “two unifications (两个统一)” to focus legal research on digital law, digital rule of law, and digital law theory: (1) Unify individual technical topics like the Internet, Big Data, Cloud Computing, Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, and Algorithms into the general category of “Digital Science and Technology (数字科技)”and then (2) Unify the scattered and isolated legal research on “Digital Science and Technology” into the field of “Digital Law (数字法学)” where the research would then be integrated into legal sub-fields (rather than technical sub-fields). Zhang also called on future digital law research to “strengthen systemic thinking, optimize dialectical thinking, and establish global thinking (强化系统思维、优化辩证思维、树立全球思维).”