I recently posted here on the extraordinary 500-page “Critical Study” of the Awards in the South China Sea Arbitration published by the Chinese Society of International Law (CSIL) in Oxford University Press’ Chinese Journal of International Law.

The piece drew a number of interesting comments, the most interesting from Professor Bing Ling of the University of Sydney:

This Critical Study is not some spontaneous work by individual academics, but clearly a government-orchestrated project produced in the name of a learned society. The Working Report of the Board of CSIL (2013-18) reports that the work of CSIL, including the Critical Study, was carried out “under the supervision and leadership of the Foreign Ministry” (https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Xv8Kij_bDuqMETULvUfMqg).

That CSIL Working Report makes for interesting reading in Google Translate. It opens with:

In the past five years, under the guidance of the socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics in the new era of Xi Jinping, the current council has united and led the members to work together under the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to earnestly implement the spirit of the 18th and 19th National Party Congress and the Party Central Committee … [including through] adherence to the correct political direction …

In terms of the five years of work the first heading is “Serving the State’s Foreign Affairs and Foreign Affairs Bureau to Promote the International Influence of the Society” and achievement (A)(II) is listed as:

Actively respond to the “Southern Gulf [sic] arbitration case proposed by the Philippines”. From 2016 to 2018 , the Society made a multi-level, multi-channel and multi-perspective speech by organizing domestic and international seminars, writing reports, publishing series of articles, publishing special issues, receiving television interviews, and writing criticism reports. They refuted and exposed the Philippine arbitral tribunal for the South China Sea arbitration case to expand powers, ultra vires, and abuse of power. … Including: 1. Organization of domestic experts and scholars, organized the “Philippine South China Sea Arbitration” academic seminar. 2. Organize domestic experts and scholars to write a report on the “Arbitral Tribunal of the South China Sea Arbitration Court has no legal effect” report and publish it in both Chinese and English; 3. Organize domestic experts and scholars to write a “Critique of the South China Sea Arbitration Award” report in both Chinese and English publishing.  … (Emphasis added.)

A further important piece of context is the following passage:

… [W]e always adhere to the overall situation of serving the country’s diplomacy and foreign affairs. Diplomatic foreign affairs work is an important part of the overall work guilof the party and the country. The work of international law teaching research and associations is also an important component of foreign affairs. In the past five years, the Institute has guided the Chinese international law community to focus on the research direction of the focus of diplomatic work. It closely identifies the actual needs of diplomatic work when organizing various academic conferences to determine the theme of the conference, and effectively plays a role as a bridge between the theoretical and practical world of international law. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Society has always adhered to the mission of the National Foreign Affairs and Foreign Affairs Center, paid close attention to the evolution of the international situation, strengthened theoretical and empirical studies of international law in related fields, and scored a series of important achievements. In particular, in 2016, the Society mobilized the academic community to cooperate with the overall deployment of diplomacy to carry out the juridical struggle and actively responded to the “Philippine South China Sea Arbitration Case” in various ways, effectively refuting and exposing the unlawful practices of the temporary arbitration tribunal. (Emphasis added.)

Allowing for the vagaries of Google Translate, this five year Working Report raises a number of interesting questions including:

  • Given the close association of the CSIL and the Chinese Foreign Ministry – and the apparent integration of the CSIL into the diplomatic effort on this issue – should Foreign Ministry “leadership” of the Critical Study have been acknowledged in a first footnote?
  • Did the CSIL’s self-professed “mobiliz[ation of] the academic community” have any impact (directly or indirectly) on the peer review process for the Critical Study?
  • OUP lists the Chinese Journal of International Law as “An independent, peer-reviewed research journal edited primarily by scholars from mainland China, and published in association with the Chinese Society of International Law, Beijing, and Wuhan University Institute of International Law, Wuhan …” Should that description make some acknowledgement of the seemingly close links between the CSIL and the Foreign Ministry?

In addition, the editorial board includes a substantial number of distinguished scholars who are resident outside China. It would be interesting to know how many of them were involved in the editorial decision-making and peer review process which has resulted in what could potentially be seen as a 500 page government-commissioned or -vetted report being published in a scholarly journal.

If anyone would wish to correct auto-translated passages, please let me know.