On Saturday I was one of the guest speakers at a terrific conference at the University of Chicago on “China and the World: Business, Politics, and International Relations in the Age of an Asian Superpower.” Most of the speakers were professors of international relations, political science, or economics. I was the only law professor who spoke at the conference and the only speaker to focus entirely on efforts to combat China’s environmental problems. The conference organizers took very good care of us. They sent a stretch limousine to take us from the hotel to the conference, gave us a “green room” in which to prepare in the university’s famed International House, and introduced us to University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer prior to the start of the conference.
I really enjoyed hearing perspectives on China from other disciplines. Keynote speaker Yao Yang, director of the China Center for Economic Research at Peking University, noted that government and state-owned enterprises still account for 60% of China’s economy. He argued that China’s various government ministries have become the equivalent of U.S. special interest groups. Yang predicted that growing inequality in China ultimately will hurt the country’s economy. Former George Washington Business School dean Doug Gouthrie argued that the U.S. has become a junior partner in China/U.S. business relations. He described the dressing down he received from several prominent Chinese investment groups when he took D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray to China to talk up investments in Washington, D.C. Siva Yam, president of the U.S.-China Chamber of Commerce, argued that China has hurt its economy’s long-term prospects by making massive investments in fixed assets instead of research and development, which may account for why China has not invented anything of significance in the last century.
Vikram Nehru from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was one of the principal authors of the World Bank’s “China 2030” report, noted that China has uniquely high levels of savings and investment. He noted that many of the recommendations of the World Bank report have been embraced by Chinese authorities and he rejected the prescription that China simply should try to stimulate greater domestic consumption. Nehru expressed optimism that China’s massive investments in education would improve the country’s human capital and he deemed negotiations of a future free trade agreement between the U.S. and China to be critical. Robert Kapp, former president of the U.S.-China Business Council, complained that uneven enforcement of Chinese laws and regulations hurts foreign competitors, but he noted that virtually all foreign companies in China are still making money. University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer, viewing the world as a centuries-old competition among nations for dominance, gave his standard talk on how military conflict between the U.S. and China is virtually inevitable.
Phil Saunders, director of the Center for Study of Chinese Military Affairs, noted that even countries that do not trust each other are continuing to expand bilateral trade and investment because they now care more about increasing economic growth and improving living standards. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn, who I discovered is a neighbor of mine on Capital Hill, gave a terrific talk on China’s efforts to cultivate African countries. He noted that 50 of the African continent’s 54 countries now support China instead of Taiwan. Shinn observed that even though the U.S. still provides more aid to African countries than China does, China has better relations with more African countries than the U.S. has. I spoke about China’s efforts to combat its immense environmental problems, describing our March testimony before the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and the changes in China’s basic Environmental Law that it helped inspire.
On Sunday May 11 the Baltimore Sun published an oped (“A Supreme oops”) I wrote that reviewed the history of errors in Supreme Court decisions. The oped was inspired by Justice Scalia’s dissent in the EME Homer decision in which the Court upheld EPA’s regulations of interstate air pollution under the Clean Air Act. I described a situation where I narrowly averted what would have been an embarrassing mistake in a decision I had helped Justice White draft while working as his law clerk. I also noted some examples of where mistakes in slip opinion subsequently were corrected by the Justices. The oped is available online at: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-justice-gaffes-20140509,0,526654.story
On Tuesday May 6 the White House released the third National Climate Assessment, which is available online at: http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights#section-5682. The report summarizes the likely impacts of climate change on the U.S. It is based on research by a team of 300 experts who reported to a 60-member federal advisory committee. The report concluded that the effects of climate change already are being felt throughout the U.S. It warns that action should be taken now to avoid some of the most damaging future effects of climate change.
While seeking to stave off bankruptcy and to facilitate a merger with another law firm, Patton Boggs stunned the legal world last week by agreeing to a unprecedented settlement of Chevron’s RICO suit against it. Patton Boggs had joined the decades-long effort to hold Chevron accountable for polluting the Oriente region of Ecuador only after the plaintiffs had won an $9.5 billion judgment. As part of its “scorched earth” litigation tactics in the case, Chevron sued all of the plaintiffs and their lawyers under the Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, alleging that they were part of a massive fraudulent shakedown operation. Patton Boggs, which had not been involved in any allegedly fraudulent activities, agreed to pay Chevron $15 million and to provide it with evidence that might be used against its former client, raising serious ethical concerns.
Intense clashes occured last week between Chinese police and protesters opposing the siting of a waste incinerator near Hangzhou. Responding to the protests, the Hangzhou government said the project would not proceed without public support. The incinerator is designed to handle 36% of the city’s waste. James T. Areddy, Incinerator Plans Spur Clashes in China, Wall St. J., May 12, 2013, at A8.