2018 Spring Festival Message


Dear Friend,

We hope that you are enjoying the Spring Festival, and we wish you a healthy, happy and prosperous Year of the Dog. We are also excited to report to you on our recent activities and to let you in on our plans for the coming year.

This past year, in addition to the well-attended courses we teach on Chinese, Japanese and International Law, the U.S.-Asia Law Institute organized over 40 public events at the law school, including our weekly lunch speaker series, two large scale conferences, several special lectures and book talks, and presentations by our visiting scholars from Asia on their research. We covered a wide range of current topics relating to the law of Asian jurisdictions and international law, including the East China and South China Sea disputes, human rights, bankruptcy law, Asian legal systems as portrayed in Asian cinema, anti-discrimination law in China, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and other financial institutions, Taiwan’s law reform, same sex marriage in Asia, and regulating hate speech in Japan. 

We were also honored to welcome many distinguished guests. Last March, in front of an overflow crowd, Professor Cohen interviewed his former student, Taiwan’s recent president, Ma Ying-jeou, on the current challenges facing the island.  We also hosted Natalie Lichtenstein, a leading World Bank lawyer whom the Chinese government recruited to serve as the first general counsel of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.  We were pleased to have created many opportunities for well-known scholars and legal professionals to speak to our growing community.

Our public events at NYU have helped to foster a stimulating atmosphere for our students, staff researchers, faculty and the more than a dozen visiting scholars from China, Taiwan, Japan and Korea whom we have welcomed in each of the last two years, and we are now inviting visiting scholars from Viet Nam as well.

In addition, we continue to host short-term delegations from Asian jurisdictions who seek intensive updates on American legal reforms. In April, we welcomed a dozen Japanese criminal defense lawyers who came to New York City to learn about how plea bargaining works in the United States and also to study how public defenders and appointed counsel may participate in the early stages of a criminal case.  To help them achieve these goals, USALI arranged meetings with experts, including our staff and faculty, as well as site visits to state and federal courts, a New York City police precinct house and interrogation room, NYPD headquarters, and various prosecutors’ offices and legal aid lawyers.  We covered a great deal of ground, both physically and academically, in one week and our Japanese visitors expressed tremendous gratitude for the program.

In October, we hosted a dozen legal experts from China, Japan, Taiwan, and Viet Nam for a month-long intensive study of how wrongful convictions of innocent people occur, how they can be prevented and how the innocent may be exonerated.  We had organized a similar program in 2016 and, unbeknownst to us, two of the participants, one from Taiwan and one from Mainland China, self-published detailed accounts of the program, including an account on social media.  As a result, we encountered strong demand to repeat the program this past year.  At the end of the month-long training, several participants remarked that it was the best program they had ever attended.  Wrongful convictions occur in every country and they are receiving more attention in all of the jurisdictions where we work.  We are proud to be able to share our learning with experts from all of these Asian countries who can then take that expertise back home to improve their own legal systems and prevent miscarriages of justice.

In November, Professor Cohen, NYU Professor Jim Jacobs, affiliated scholars Aaron Halegua, Yu-jie Chen and I all participated in a Track II U.S. - China Human Rights Dialogue hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.

We also continued our legal exchange projects in China.  We started the year in Nanjing and Hainan.  In Nanjing, we collaborated with Nanjing University Law School to convene two workshops, one on labor law and another on employment discrimination.  In the labor law workshop, we explored the worldwide trend toward new employment arrangements in the so-called “gig economy,” in which China has taken a leading role.  In our anti-discrimination workshop, we discussed addressing gender discrimination in employment, and especially discrimination against pregnant women, which appears to be on the rise now that China has adopted a two child policy. 

In Hainan, Professor Cohen and Professor Peter Dutton, a USALI-affiliated scholar based at the U.S. Naval War College, participated in a Track II Dialogue on disputes in the South and East China Seas.  As you may know, Jerry and Peter have been leaders in advocating for the use of international law to resolve these disputes peacefully. 

In June, USALI convened its first workshop in Japan, co-sponsoring an event with the Innocence Project Japan on preventing false confessions and the cognitive bias to which they lead.  We convened similar programs in Kunming and Beijing and worked directly with Chinese criminal investigators on how to conduct effective police interrogations without coercion and without eliciting false confessions.  These workshops are part of our ongoing effort to share expertise and best practices in the prevention of miscarriages of justice.

Also in June, USALI worked with local law schools in Chengdu and Guangzhou to convene day-long workshops with scholars, criminal defense lawyers, prosecutors and judges to compare the roles that criminal defense lawyers play in the United States and China, and to explore whether our respective rules of professional responsibility effectively protect lawyers from punishment for simply doing their jobs representing the lawful interests of their clients.

During 2017, our scholars produced an impressive list of publications, including a highly regarded Harvard University Press book on Chinese labor law by our colleague and faculty advisor, Professor Cynthia Estlund: “A New Deal for Chinese Workers?”  Another one of our distinguished affiliated scholars, Professor Sida Liu, published another excellent book on Chinese criminal defense lawyers, titled: “China, Between Reform and Repression: Lawyers & the Fight for Basic Legal Freedoms.”  Professor Cohen was prolific in publishing opinion pieces on the issues of the day ranging from North Korea to the detention of a Taiwanese human rights activist on the Mainland and also published several chapters of what will eventually become his memoirs.  Read our 2017 Publication Highlights here, and reference our activities here.

We are also very proud of our work producing two volumes in English and Chinese – one on best practices in police interrogation and the other on best practices in making pre-trial detention and release decisions.  We expect both volumes to be published this coming year.

We are extremely grateful for all the academic, spiritual and financial support that we received from our friends this past year.  With generous support from the Ford Foundation, we were able to launch a $13 million endowment campaign.  We are pleased to report that, thanks to many of you, we were able to raise $8.5 million during the past year.  Thanks to your contributions, our success in fundraising triggered a commitment by the Ford Foundation to provide us with two more years of funding while we continue to work hard to raise the remaining $5 million.  The endowment will honor the work of our founder, mentor, and colleague, Professor Jerome A. Cohen, and ensure the financial sustainability of the U.S.-Asia Law Institute, a significant part of Jerry’s legacy.

This past year, we were pleased to add two colleagues to our staff, Trang (Mae) Nguyen, who is helping us to expand our work in Viet Nam, and Adam Gordon, a recent graduate of NYU Law School.  Adam hails from Canada and is the first Masaiyawa-Bernstein Human Rights Fellow to join our team. 

During this coming year, we expect to continue to advance our goals of constructive engagement and exchange on legal issues with our partners in East Asia and to also continue to explain legal developments in Asia to a growing audience in the United States and the rest of the English-speaking world.

We look forward to earning your continued support and we wish you all the best in the coming year.

Very truly yours,

Ira Belkin
Executive Director and Adjunct Professor Law
U.S.-Asia Law Institute