The Proposed Reform of the Chinese Arbitration Law and its Impacts on Foreign Parties: Part I – Shu Zhang and Peng Guo

The Chinese lawmaker, being the Ministry of Justice of the PRC, recently published a draft revised New Chinese Arbitration Law for public consultation, which suggests a series of major changes. While most of the changes are in line with the international practice, there are also significant deviations from the commonly accepted practice suggested by the UNCITRAL Model Law. This series aims to highlight the changes and briefly evaluate its impact on foreign parties in dealings with Chinese parties, who may face potential arbitration proceedings in China. This is part one of a two-part series.

The Chinese Arbitration Law (1994) (CAL) was drafted and enacted more than 20 years ago and has been criticised for its out-of-date regime governing the practice of arbitration in China. After years of debates and discussions, the amendment of the CAL was finally prioritised by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and the State Council. On 30 July 2021, the Chinese Ministry of Justice circulated the draft of an Amended Chinese Arbitration Law for public consultation (‘the Draft’), which marks a significant step towards its formal amendment. On the one hand, a number of important features of contemporary international arbitration practice are now accepted by the Draft, demonstrating its aim to be in line with the international practice. On the other hand, some distinctive Chinese features in the Chinese arbitration system are maintained and developed, furthering its divergence from international expectations. Both of these aspects would have significant impacts on foreign parties who might consider, or who might be subject to, China-related arbitration. The authors will highlight some important features and briefly discuss their impacts on foreign parties conducting arbitration in China in this two-part series.

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Lymph or liberty: ethics and human rights in mandatory Covid-19 vaccination – Rebekah McWhirter

The strength of vaccination as a public health tool is that it both protects the individual and contributes to protection of the community by reducing the spread of disease. This is also its weakness: when individuals do not vaccinate, either because they cannot or choose not to, herd immunity – the state where enough individuals are immune to a disease to provide indirect protection by inhibiting community transmission – is weakened. Achieving very high rates of vaccination is therefore important to its success as a public health intervention. This blog post surveys the ethical and human rights considerations relevant in implementing vaccine mandates.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused significant loss of life globally, in addition to ongoing pressures on health systems and the emerging evidence of longer-term effects of the disease. The near-miraculous development of multiple effective vaccines against Covid-19 within a year demonstrated the power of well-funded research and responsive regulatory action, building on decades of work in vaccine research. In combination with other public health measures, achieving high vaccination rates is a key part of the path out of the pandemic. As voluntary rates slow, and herd immunity remains elusive, it is tempting to look to vaccine mandates to get rates up and over the line.

What are vaccine mandates?

Vaccine mandates can encompass a range of sanction designs. Criminal penalties, such as fines and imprisonment, were a feature of nineteenth-century compulsory vaccination statutes requiring parents to have their children vaccinated against smallpox. Such laws were of variable efficacy, and fell into abeyance following the introduction of conscientious objection clauses in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. 

Modern mandates more commonly focus on specific groups through targeted incentives or penalties. Incentives, such as the now-repealed Maternity Immunisation Allowance, may not technically constitute a mandate, but can be significant enough, especially to those on lower incomes, that they operate in much the same way as a mandate. In recent years, incentive-based approaches have gradually been replaced by penalty-based approaches, such as the No Jab, No Pay and No Jab, No Play policies which restrict access to childcare and family assistance payments if children have not received the vaccinations required by the National Immunisation Program Schedule. While medical exemptions are available, these policies removed conscientious objection exemptions.

While the Australian government is always very careful to emphasise that vaccination in Australia is voluntary, the practical implications of these measures are such that childhood vaccinations are, except for the wealthy, essentially mandatory. Similarly, occupational vaccine mandates, such as certain childcare and aged care employers that require employees to be receive annual flu vaccines, are voluntary only in the sense that the choice is between vaccination and unemployment. 

A return to population-wide vaccine mandates is extremely unlikely, but targeted Covid-19 mandates requiring evidence of vaccination for specific purposes, such as employmenttravel or health insurance, are being seriously considered, if not already being implemented. Significantly, such mandates are going beyond previously accepted high-risk contexts, such as healthcare and aged care, and are being implemented in contexts such as a museum and a fruit processing plant on the basis of workplace health and safety considerations rather than under public health orders. This raises questions about the extent to which such mandates are ethical and lawful.

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Assessments of Liability for Violations of International Law involving Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems: Abstract Entities and Algorithmic Accountability – Helen Stamp

In 1950, the International Military Tribunal sitting at Nuremburg, put forward the following, fundamental proposition, reported in the official proceedings of the Tribunal [466], regarding criminal responsibility for crimes of international concern:

“[c]rimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced.”  

This statement was in response to arguments submitted to the Tribunal that it is sovereign states which are governed by international law, rather than individuals, and that individuals are therefore protected from personal responsibility when the act in question is an ‘act of state.’ This submission was strongly rejected by the Tribunal who confirmed that individuals can be held responsible under international law, and specifically the laws of war; a position which has been maintained and has informed the development of international criminal law since that time.

Seventy-one years on, the notion of individual criminal responsibility is again being challenged; not through arguments of state sovereignty but by the very technology incorporated into weaponry which is now being developed and used in modern armed conflicts

In particular, Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) – where responsibility for decisions is shared between a human operator and to varying degrees an autonomous digital system – have created a challenge to established legal frameworks and accountability mechanisms which would have been unimaginable to those sitting at Nuremburg many years ago. 

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Beyond the International Health Regulations: The Role of International Disaster Response Law in the Global Pandemic Response – Thomas Mulder

The global pandemic response has legally largely relied on the International Health Regulations of 2005, but this instrument does not offer a clear framework for the provision of international assistance in pandemics. The regime of international disaster response law offers a solution and should fill this gap. The concurrent application of both regimes contributes to a comprehensive global approach to the complex challenges of pandemics.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, dramatic surges in COVID-19 cases have caused crises around the world. Rising pressure on health care systems and shortages of medical supplies have put several states in urgent need of assistance at various stages during the pandemic. A striking example is India, where an exponential rise of cases led to heartbreaking scenes in April and May 2021. States have responded to these needs with offers of international assistance, including assistance to India. However, it has been unclear which legal framework applies to international assistance in a pandemic. 

The International Health Regulations of 2005 (IHR 2005) have been the main framework for the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, two independent panels that reviewed the global pandemic response have highlighted the lack of attention drawn to international cooperation and mutual assistance in the IHR 2005. The panels have recommended revision of the IHR 2005 and even a new ‘pandemic treaty’, but did not come up with detailed proposals that address international assistance in pandemics. However, rather than reinventing the wheel, we should look beyond the IHR 2005 and rely on the rules and principles of international law that already address international assistance in crises, namely international disaster response law. This regime should be integrated into the legal framework on the global pandemic response.

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Can international criminal law protect the environment? – Stephanie Erian

In June 2021, a panel of legal experts convened by the Stop Ecocide Foundation (called the Independent Expert Panel for the Legal Definition of Ecocide (Panel)) unveiled a proposal to make mass environmental destruction an international crime (Proposal). The Proposal involves adding new Article 8 ter to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which would place ecocide alongside existing international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Although encouraging to see environmental protection as the focus of international legal efforts, the Proposal raises serious questions for international criminal law practitioners. Some of these are considered below. 

So, what’s the proposed definition?

The Panel defines ecocide as ‘unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts’ (Proposal, p 5). 

A number of aspects of the draft definition are drawn from existing international law agreements, making its construction feel more familiar. For example, the Proposal reflects the structure of Article 7 of the Rome Statute relating to crimes against humanity: the first paragraph sets out the crime, and the second paragraph defines the crime’s core elements. In terms of language, the words ‘widespread’, ‘long-term’ and ‘severe’ replicate those in Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute concerning damage to the environment during international armed conflict. This article prohibits intentionally conducting an attack in the knowledge that it will cause ‘widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated’. New Article 8 ter would essentially extend this war crime to times of peace, and cover environmental damage that is both cumulative and alternative (‘severe and either widespread or long-term’).

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New technology, equity and the law of the sea — Aline Jaeckel and Harriet Harden-Davies

Advancements in new technologies open up new ocean industries and possibilities to explore the ocean. Some of these new technologies, such as swarms of underwater mini robots to map the seafloor or sensors on automated underwater vehicles, assist scientists in their work and produce growing quantities of ocean data. Other technologies enable us to extract evermore resources from the ocean, be it wave energy, fish, genetic materials or seafloor minerals. Still others provide new ways to conserve marine ecosystems, such as the use of satellite technologies to monitor human activity at sea and detect illegal fishing in marine protected areas. 

Given the many possibilities offered by ocean technologies, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development starting this year aims to stimulate innovation and access to new technology to increase ocean exploration. Yet, whether new technology will help us achieve the UN Agenda 2030 sustainable development goal of ‘leaving no-one behind’ and contribute to positive social, environmental and economic benefits will depend on how, where, and by whom ocean science and technology is used in pursuit of ‘sustainable development’. 

This calls for research and action into how ocean science and technology can address, rather than perpetuate, inequities between states and communities. International law provides the legal framework, though it is far from perfect.  

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The Paris Agreement’s White Whale: the hunt for greater ambition on shipping emissions — Tess Van Geelen

The shipping industry is often described as the ‘backbone’ of the international trade system, accounting for up to 90% of the global trade in goods. Even after the emergence of relatively affordable and much faster air freight, shipping continues to dominate due to its high efficiency and lower cost. Shipping is also generally seen as a greener alternative to air freight. According to some studies, shipping produces up to 40 times less CO2 equivalent than air freight.

Still, the sheer size of the fleet means that shipping makes a significant contribution to climate change. Current estimates put that contribution at around 2 or 3% of total global anthropogenic emissions. Shipping also causes a variety of other types of environmental damage, including oil spills, ship strikes that kill or wound marine animals, underwater noise pollution, and the transport of invasive species between ports.

Studies project that the rate of growth in shipping is likely to overwhelm recent efforts aimed at curbing emissions from the sector. Some studies have projected a future increase in emissions from shipping of up to 250% by 2050.

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Could Australia’s Environment Minister face prosecution at The Hague for “ecocide” due to climate change inaction? – Joshua Clarke

The recent report of the UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the latest in a series of events building pressure on Australias climate policy sclerosis. When an expert legal panel published a definition of ecocide” in June, it grabbed fewer headlines. But this international law milestone has potential implications for leaders globally. This article examines the proposed international crime of ecocide and considers what it means for political leaders whose countries are hindering global climate action.

A series of inconvenient events

It has been quite a month for headlines with temperature-related metaphors, and the news they were delivering was grim. On 9 August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released part one of its sixth assessment report. In it, the UN body found that global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels could be upon us by 2030. With this prediction, the ambitions of the Paris Climate Agreement hang in the balance. The IPCC’s message is unequivocal: climate change is happening now and it is only through immediate, steep and sustained emissions reductions that catastrophe might be avoided. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the report a “code red for humanity”. 

Efforts to combat climate change will now need to redouble. But in this global campaign, few would regard Australia as a reliable ally. A report published in July on 193 countries’ progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals awarded Australia a score of only 10 out of 100 for climate action: the lowest awarded for any country. Australia’s high levels of exported greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel use per capita, plus its failure to make progress on implementing an effective price on emissions, earned the country its rock bottom ranking. It has not helped Australia’s standing that the country still conspicuously lacks a national commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. And with the IPCC’s latest findings that urgent action in this decade is imperative, Australia’s unwillingness to update its 2030 emissions reduction targets since they were set in 2015 reads as defiance.

In commentary on Australia’s “climate wars”, the IPCC report now dominates: will it deal a decisive blow to climate policy stagnation as COP26 — the next UN Climate Change Conference — approaches in November? In the shadow of the IPCC report, it is easy to overlook other pertinent developments of the past few months. In July, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef narrowly avoided being classified by UNESCO as a world heritage site “in danger” primarily due to the threat posed by climate change. About the same time, Australia’s Federal Court declared that the Environment Minister Susan Ley, when determining whether to approve a coal mine project, owed a duty of care to avoid causing harm to children in Australia arising from emissions of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere. The minister has appealed, but the Federal Government has since been hit with further lawsuits challenging its decisions for failing to take climate change into account, including in relation to a forest logging agreement and a gas exploration project

Amidst this flurry of activity, one milestone reached in international law went relatively unnoticed. But perhaps in time, this significant development may come to focus minds in Canberra and around the world on the necessity for climate action. 

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What does it take to violate Article IV of the Outer Space Treaty: Looking to Artemis for the celestial answer – Manasa S Venkatachalam

The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of 1967, also known as the Outer Space Treaty (OST), has long emphasised the need to use outer space for peaceful purposes, particularly when it comes to celestial bodies like the Moon. Along these lines, it becomes important to note the spreading international acceptance of the Artemis Accords (Accords) with Australia being one of the first to sign back in 2019 and most recently, Brazil becoming the first South American nation to sign. The objective of this international effort is to promote utilisation of space resources, particularly the recovery of resources from the surface or subsurface of celestial bodies like the Moon and Mars and other objects like asteroids and comets (Section 10 of the Accords). 

In this context, there could arise a situation where these resources are applied for military purposes, which then brings up the question as to the legality of such use. Thus, is important to understand what exactly the term “peaceful” means in the context of the OST and existing customary international law (CIL).

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Book Review: Is cyber-election interference a violation of the right to self-determination? Jens Ohlin’s ‘Election Interference’ provides a valuable correction to the debate – Robert Clarke

With the deluge of spurious ‘election fraud’ claims following the 2020 US Presidential Election, the genuine issue of foreign election interference has been somewhat overshadowed. However, international lawyers should not lose sight of this emerging threat which, accelerated by new technologies, is capable of forming the basis of genuine ‘election fraud’ in the years to come.  Despite much debate in the years following the Russian disinformation campaign in 2016, international lawyers have yet to arrive at a consensus as to if, and how, international law can evolve to deal with the challenges of modern election interference.  In his timely new book ‘Election Interference’, Jens Ohlin puts aside rhetoric of ‘acts of war’ frequently invoked by sabre-rattling pundits and politicians, to investigate a number of alternative doctrines of international law that could provide the answers to these questions. This book review will consider Ohlin’s approach to the two key doctrines of international law he discusses with respect to the 2016 Russian interference campaign: non-intervention and self-determination. 


Unlike other international law scholars, (see for example Michael Schmitt and Ido Kilovaty) Ohlin is sceptical that cyber-election interference constitutes a violation of the doctrine of non-intervention. To constitute a violation of this principle, interference must first interfere with a state’s sovereign domaine réservé, and second involve an element of coercion [205]. That the conduct of elections is part of a State’s domaine réservé is accepted in a general sense, as well as in the context of cyber-interference (Rule 26 Commentary [20]). However, Ohlin questions whether cyber-election interference has ‘the essence’ of the principle of non-intervention, that of coercion.

The difficulty with applying the doctrine of coercion to cyber-interference operations like that conducted by Russian individuals in 2016 according to Ohlin, is identifying who exactly who is being coerced. It cannot be said that the state itself is actually being coerced, because the results of the election will ultimately still reflect the views of its citizens, irrespective of whether they are improperly influenced by foreign meddling. Cyber-influence operations are therefore often characterised as ‘distortion rather than coercion’. 

Ohlin describes the failure of other international law scholars to properly reckon with this as reflecting a ‘teleological’ approach in the face of an ‘absence of evidence’, writing ‘information operations are not coercive simply because one hopes they are’.

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