The program began in 1999 with a Mansfield Foundation–Global Forum of Japan co-sponsored workshop on “The Rule of Law and Its Acceptance in Asia” in Tokyo. Funded by the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and the Foundation, this workshop 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 the workshop, 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 workshop and has been a resource throughout the project.
The candid and spirited exchanges at the Tokyo workshop 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 dialogues were followed by a retreat and conference in Missoula, Montana, and a daylong conference in Washington.