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OnePacificNews, June 16 2015, Tuesday

According to Migration Policy Institute, a total of nearly three million Chinese nationals migrated to the US and Canada between 1980 and 2013. More than two million chose the US and nearly 900,000 went to Canada over that 33-year period which roughly coincides with the opening up of modern China.

Like the many generations that went before them from the mid-19th century, they left (or fled) China in search of a better life. North America offers cleaner air and water, economic opportunities, better education, freedom of speech and belief, peace, stability and social order. Over the last two decades, Americans and Canadians have also been increasing their travels to China, but not to migrate as living conditions in North America remain superior and far more attractive.

Since taking office in early 2013, President Xi Jinping has begun a long overdue programme to try improve the quality of life in China. He has talked vaguely about the “China Dream” with the aim of defining what makes it good and desirable to be Chinese and to want to live in China. His government is making early progress in reducing China’s domestic coal production and consumption as the fuel is responsible for much of the country’s toxic air and attendant health problems. It’ll take some time before China’s environment and physical living conditions can be described as attractive.

The recent generation of Chinese migrants leaving for the West is better educated, more skilled and wealthier than any in the past, said Migration Policy Institute. Their search for a better life means China loses a steady stream of wealth, skills and talents every year.

One of the reasons for the Chinese and other people to vote with their feet in going West is owed to an English document called the Magna Carta signed by King John of England on June 15 1215. Most may not have heard about it, and the Chinese certainly won’t have learnt about it in school as it lays the basis for the rule of law in Western civilisation. By putting just laws and their fair application above those in power, the West has built trust in its institutions and allowed the concept of justice, fair play and transparency to be practised and upheld. In principle, the common folk receives fair treatment and is protected from abuse by those in power.

It may sound simple, but much of the world still struggles to understand the importance of the rule of law.

Given the choice, Chinese as well as people from other societies overwhelmingly prefer to live in societies where the rule of law applies. Human rights and social justice are not fancy fuzzy concepts but are rightly held up as standards in the governance of human relationships.

China recently showed signs of catching up. President Xi began expounding his version of the “rule of law” last year, but it quickly became mired in dispute owing to his refusal to let any rule supercede the primacy of the Communist Party. Critics call it the “rule by law” in China.

In the current crackdown on corruption, Beijing is showing that the old rule still applies.

Last Friday, a Chinese court in Tianjin city found Zhou Yongkang, once among China’s most powerful politicians, guilty of abuse of power and corruption. Despite being — or because he was — the first Politburo Standing Committee member to be indicted for corruption in China’s modern history, his trial from May 22 was held in secret for fear that the hearings might reveal too many secrets about the party’s inner workings. Few knew about the trial until the verdict was announced just four days before the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.

So much for the rule of law: the takedown of Zhou is viewed largely as a political move by Xi to cut down a powerful enemy while corrupt officials loyal to the President continue to walk free. Once again, in China, the law has been used, or rather abused, by those in power to advance personal interest. Thus, the phrase “rule by law”.

In British Columbia, the Magna Carta is a powerful document built into Canada’s institutional DNA to protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens.

Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton marked the occasion of its signing with a statement that Xi could use in a future updated version of the Chinese Dream:

“Magna Carta is of vital importance because the peaceful, lawful, respectful society, in which we have the great good fortune to live, can be traced back to the sealing of this famous document.”

After a tumultuous beginning and several revisions in the 13th century, it became English law in 1297. Its most important clause, recognised as underlying the principle of the rule of law, was brought to North America.

“This momentous document has had an enduring impact by providing a foundation to ensure that individual liberties are protected within the context of peaceful, orderly government,” said Ms Anton.

“The Supreme Court of Canada, Canada’s highest court, has directly cited Magna Carta as underlying the principles of democracy, the right to a trial which is fair, meaningful and held within a reasonable period of time, and habeus corpus (or the right to determine the legality of imprisonment). Many provisions of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms echo these rights and guarantees.

“The principles of Magna Carta form the foundation of many of the policies, programs and projects the Ministry of Justice is undertaking to transform our modern-day justice system.”

One Pacific News Editor