How do you fight transnational corruption when norms and laws differ from one country to another? As nations across the globe focus more on anti-corruption initiatives, a conference in Beijing, attended by UNC School of Law professor Joseph Kennedy, convened criminal law scholars from around the world to discuss possible solutions. The conference is sponsored by the International Forum on Crime and Criminal Law in the Global Era and run by the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.
The October conference covered the range of legal doctrines that regulate and prohibit illicit transactions among business leaders and between businesses and governments. As the world’s biggest economies, the United States and China have much at stake.
“The U.S. has greatly expanded its efforts to crack down on bribery and other forms of corruption involving U.S. companies that operate overseas,” says Kennedy, who led the conference’s American delegation.
“The general understanding is that corruption has become endemic in China since the opening up of their economy. They want to crack down on corruption,” Kennedy says. “It would be easier for American companies to do business if China took a harder line against corruption.”
Forum participants discussed approaches, challenges and solutions to fighting corruption in their countries. Delegates from other Asian nations, as well as Canada, Europe and South America, attended.
U.S. delegates included Sam Buell of Duke Law School, Julie O’Sullivan of Georgetown Law Center and Andrew Spalding of the University of Richmond School of Law. Their papers, respectively, covered indirect and partial control of corruption, whistleblower programs and other private anti-corruption mechanisms, and exporting corruption through Chinese companies with business overseas.
Kennedy taught International Law and Intellectual Property at Northwest University in Xi’an, China, during the spring semester of 2012 on a Fulbright Lecture Award. His conference paper focused on China’s anti-corruption efforts. “The challenge in a society as economically dynamic as China is to grow anti-corruption norms in an evolutionary way, ” he says. “Even low-level government officials are exposed to enormous bribes, and the corruption took hold when state-run enterprises transformed into private ones.”
One of his recommendations was for China to “consider an amnesty program to allow people who engaged in corruption in the past to come forward and start with a clean slate,” Kennedy says.
During the conference a member of China’s Supreme People’s Court and chairman of the court’s task force against corruption may have acknowledged Kennedy’s amnesty proposal.
The judge said that in China, “It might be necessary to take a different approach to past crimes, especially during the transition from state-owned to privately owned enterprises,” Kennedy notes.
At the conference’s conclusion, Kennedy helped revise a resolution distributed to Chinese media, scholars and government officials.
“The Chinese government clearly is trying to figure out ways to use laws to fight corruption, but differences in Chinese and Western approaches to law are profound. Every time I go to China, I learn more about ways we can bridge that gap,” Kennedy says.
-November 19, 2013