The Rule of Law in Asia

The Mansfield Foundation’s Rule of Law in Asia Program


Mansfield Foundation Deputy Director David Boling introduces panels of speakers at the Mansfield Foundation’s Rule of Law 2013 conference in Hong Kong, May 2013.

The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation initiated its Rule of Law in Asia Project in 1999 in order to advance an open and precise dialogue on the rule of law and what it entails in Asia. The project has consisted of a series of conferences, dialogues and retreats in Asia and the United States as well as a number of publications (The Rule of Law: A Lexicon for Policy Makers; The Rule of Law: Perspectives from the Pacific Rim, Benchmarking Development of the Rule of Law in Asia: 1999-2009 compendia of scholarly papers and Benchmarking Development of the Rule of Law in Asia: 2011 compendia of scholarly papers produced by National Taiwan University).

The project began in 1999 when the Mansfield Foundation co-sponsored with the Global Forum of Japan a symposium on “The Rule of Law and Its Acceptance in Asia” in Tokyo. Funded by the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and the Foundation, this conference provided an open forum for scholars, legal practitioners and policy makers to examine the core components of the rule of law and the economic and political implications of the rule of law for nations in Asia. In preparation for this conference, with funding support from The Luce Foundation, the Foundation commissioned Barry Hager, an attorney and specialist in international finance, trade and administrative law, to write The Rule of Law: A Lexicon for Policy Makers, a publication that served as the basis of discussion at the Tokyo conference and has been a resource throughout the project.

The candid and spirited exchanges at the Tokyo conference suggested a continuing need to examine and parse the rule of law and its core components, particularly as they apply to economic and political life in Asia. As a result, the Mansfield Foundation co-sponsored a series of Mansfield Dialogues for scholars, practitioners and policy makers in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong in December 1999, with Beijing University School of Law, Fudan University School of Law and City University of Hong Kong School of Law. With a grant from The Starr Foundation, the Mansfield Foundation organized additional dialogues in September 2000 in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Taipei and Seoul. These dialogues were co-sponsored with the Institute of State and Law in Vietnam, National Taiwan University, and Kyungnam University in Korea. The discussions were followed by a retreat and conference in Missoula, Montana, and a daylong conference in Washington.

In May 2002, the Foundation organized a retreat in Taipei on the rule of law, during which a small group of legal scholars and practitioners from Asia and the United States continued to explore advancements in the rule of law in Asia. In 2009 the Mansfield Foundation again organized a conference in Taipei examining development of the rule of law in East Asia. This conference was judged a success by organizers and participants, who were honored to enjoy an extended discussion with President Ma Ying-jeou.  Both the 2002 and 2009 conferences were made possible due to the generous support of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington.

The Mansfield Foundation in cooperation with National Taiwan University College of Law and thanks to the generous financial support of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy brought the Rule of Law in Asia Project back to Taipei in May and June 2012. The following year, the Foundation hosted a successful Rule of Law 2013 conference in Hong Kong with an emphasis on land reform, and future conferences will expand upon these experiences by focusing on the rule of law throughout Asia.


 NYU Professor Frank Upham (Left) and Rick Tang (Right)  prepare for the 2013 conference in a closed-door work session with other participants.

Program Objectives

The rule of law conferences have the following objectives:

1) Continue to build a core group of legal experts and scholars in Asia who have the knowledge, resources, networks and tools to monitor and promote the rule of law in their countries;

2) Provide an opportunity for this core group to analyze and report on the development of the rule of law in the region, including impediments to its application;

3) Specifically address issues of access to justice in East and Southeast Asia;

4) Serve as a seedbed for future intra-regional collaborations on the rule of law;

5) Increase popular understanding of the centrality of robust rule of law to economic development and sustained increases in standards of living and incomes.

Program Description

In carrying out the Rule of Law Project, the Mansfield Foundation has created a unique model for intra-regional discussion and analysis of the status and relevance of the rule of law. Our model consists of a private retreat ― a preparatory closed-door work session ― followed by a public dialogue or conference and publication of papers written by participants. This model has resulted in unprecedented exchanges, cooperation and discussion among Asian scholars and practitioners, who never before have had an opportunity to discuss the status of the rule of law as it is evolving in their countries.

In 2012, the Mansfield Foundation organized a three-day, closed-door work session in Taipei where a select group of scholars and legal practitioners privately shared experiences and debated rule of law concepts and policies, proposals for future advances, etc., followed by the half-day public conference where the current situation was discussed and analyzed, along with the results and recommendations from the three days of working sessions. This program also included an extended private discussion with President Ma Ying-jeou.

The agenda also included meetings with local judges, defense attorneys, government officials, non-governmental organizations, business executives and scholars to discuss the current legal, economic, social, and political issues facing the government and people of Taiwan.

For the latest iteration of the Rule of Law Project in 2013, The Mansfield Foundation, in cooperation with New York University’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute, the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong, and Sun Yat-sen University School of Law, held a May 27-31 conference in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China on “Legal Institutions, Trade, and Investment in China.”  Participants sought to better understand – and reach out to the broader public about – international best practices pertaining to the rule of law and economic and trade concerns, and in particular the relation of the rule of law to land use and land reform in contemporary China. Faculty, students, and the public also had the opportunity to hear from program participants, such as NYU professors Jerome Cohen and Frank Upham, at public forums held at HKU’s Faculty of Law and SunYat-sen UniversitySchool of Law.  This program was sponsored by the Hinrich Foundation and Lingnan Foundation and supported by the Better Hong Kong Foundation and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy.


 Benny Tai, Rick Tang, Daniel Fung, Jerome Cohen, and Simon Young speak at the Rule of Law 2013 public forum at Hong Kong University. 


Among the previous participants with whom the Foundation has worked on this program are: Tsung-Fu Chen of National Taiwan University’s Department of Law, Albert H.Y. Chen and Simon Young of the University of Hong Kong, Hualing Fu of the University of Hong Kong, Eun Young Park of Kim and Chang, Daniel Fung of Des Voeux Chambers and Wejen Chang of the Academia Sinica. In future years the Foundation intends to continue to reach out to new participants from other countries in order to broaden the program’s geographic reach and to expose a greater number of legal professionals to the ongoing discussion.

The Mansfield Foundation notes the continued involvement of New York University School of Law Professors Jerome Cohen and Frank Upham in all aspects of this program.

Future Programs:

Given the positive feedback and valuable results of program conferences thus far the Mansfield Foundation and Jerome Cohen intend to continue this program in coming years. Future discussions will likely focus more strongly on the centrality of a strong and robust rule of law for continued business prosperity and economic growth in other countries as well as China.

Sign me up for weekly updates

* Email
* First Name
* Last Name
* = Required Field