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China's Lawyers, Stepchildren Of A Fledgling Judicial System

Chinese defense lawyer Gao Zicheng
Chinese defense lawyer Gao Zicheng
Tian Wenchang*

-OpEd-

BEIJING — Lawyers are undeniably critical to any society that values judicial due process. The fact that they are still marginalized in China is another notable sign that the country's justice system is still fledgling compared to its Western counterparts.

After 30 years of legal construction and judicial development since China opened up in the late 1970s, lawyers as a group have grown from basically non-existent to a significant professional group. And yet even as they have been gradually accepted by society, their status hasn't enjoyed a parallel lift. The profession is regarded almost as an alien force, and it remains excluded and suppressed by prosecutors, the public security apparatus, and governmental legal departments. That's particularly true in criminal cases.

For instance, Article 306 of China's criminal code indicates restrictions on the right to a criminal defense and threatens defense attorneys with prosecution for criminal liabilities. Lawyers also face constant barriers when asking to meet defendants, for the transfer of documents for review, and when making simple inquiries. There have even been escalating conflicts between defense attorneys and trial judges in recent years.

China's harshest treatment of lawyers comes from within the judicial system. Even at court hearings, lawyers are sometimes not allowed to enter the courtroom if the defendant is not present. They neither expect nor have the luxury of equal status with the prosecution. They often wind up compromising for their own safety or simply giving up on cases.

Building a society ruled by law is more than just an abstract concept. A legal structure without lawyers enjoying a respected status within a courtroom is simply incomplete. And a legal environment where lawyers are rejected is a distorted one.

It's unfortunate for China that its lawyers are still forced into work in humble and embarrassing conditions. The day Chinese lawyers enjoy a dignified status will be the day China can truly call itself a society of rule of law.

*Tian Wenchang is a director emeritus of King & Capital law firm.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Western Tanks To Ukraine Trigger Russian Threats — But Also Fears Of Major Counterattack

Germany and the U.S. overcame months of reluctance in the past 24 hours to commit to sending heavy combat tanks to Ukraine. Russia responded with official bluster, but others in Moscow fear that the tanks delivery could be a gamechanger on the battlefield.

Picture of recently mobilized Russian troops

Recently mobilized Russian troops getting ready to depart for service

Cameron Manley

A week of growing expectations of a coming Russian offensive was turned on its head Wednesday as Germany and the U.S. announced their intention to send heavy combat tanks to Ukraine.

The sudden show of resolve on supplying tanks — after months of reluctance, particularly from Germany — has prompted some Russians to fear that Ukraine will now be equipped for a major counterattack. That would be significant reversal after speculation had been growing this month about a Russian spring offensive.

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Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government confirmed Wednesday morning that Berlin plans to send at least 14 German-built Leopard 2 tanks to the frontline. U.S. media also reported that Joe Biden’s administration is expected to officially announce Washington's commitment, with at least 30 M1 Abrams tanks expected to be sent.

The timeline remains unclear as to when the vehicles would make it into combat. Still, both sides on the war acknowledged that it is a significant development with the potential to change the math on the battlefield.

Official Russian response was loaded with typical incendiary rhetoric. Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian president Vladimir Putin, said the new tanks would "burn like all the rest, only these ones are expensive.”

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