Rule of law will boost soft power

By Naren Chitty A.M.
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, November 4, 2014
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As China grapples with the question of how it can strengthen the rule of law, it might be interesting to consider the rule of law's soft power dividends. Rule of law refers to a condition where law prevails in the governance of a country and where no one is above the law. Rule of law, of course, needs to be coupled with fair laws rather than unfair ones, laws that are consonant with the humanistic tradition that has become the dominant paradigm of governance in the contemporary era.

Soft power has two vectors. One is internally focused in a nation-state and represents the nature of governance, the relationship between the state and the people. We may call this internal soft poweror I-soft power. I-soft power is exemplified positively when the relationship between a governing institution and the people being governed takes on a dialogic approach. Good governance represents high quality I-soft power.

There is a strong connection between rule of law and good governance. Theoretically, it is possible for there to be good governance in a small society even if there is no state-instituted rule of law. For instance, strong cultural values such as those of the Confucian tradition, epitomized by ren-yi (virtue of righteousness), if widely accepted by rulers and the ruled alike, can result in good governance. But in today's large and complex societies where ancient and modern systems of values are often in conflict, there is more of an urgent need for a state-instituted rule of law than in our traditional pasts.

Rule of law is like the vessel that holds the liquid of good governance. There are fundamental values associated with the rule of law that have an innate attractiveness to all people. The greatest of these, in my view, is fairness. Justice must be fair to be attractive to all.

There are two aspects to fairness. The first is the innate appropriateness of a law to a nation's best cultural valuesthat would undoubtedly, in the modern humanistic context, permit people to pursue happiness as long as they do not harm others or society in so doing. Penalties for breaking the law would also be proportionateso one would not be banished to another land for a minor transgression such as stealing a loaf of bread. This in fact happened in the past when impoverished Irishmen would be "transported to Australia" for such a crime.

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