Author Archive for
Julian Ku

Did the U.S. Infiltration of Chinese Company Huawei Violate International Law?

by Julian Ku

Just in time for Michelle Obama’s speech in Beijing extolling the benefits of free speech and a President Obama/President Xi summit, the NY Times published an article detailing how the U.S National Security Agency infiltrated the systems of Chinese telecom infrastructure giant Huawei.  According to documents the Times obtained from the Edward Snowden leak, the NSA “obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect a third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.”

From a legal perspective, there is no doubt that this is a violation of Chinese laws and an example of how the U.S. government is doing what it is alleging the Chinese government is doing to U.S. companies. There also seems little doubt that this action is clearly legal under U.S. laws, as the U.S. government has broad and largely unchecked authority to conduct surveillance of foreign nationals in foreign countries.  But is the action illegal under any international laws?

I am doubtful that such snooping could violate any international right to privacy, even if such a right existed.  The ICCPR might provide such a right, but it may or may not apply extraterritorially, and even if it did, it probably doesn’t restrict this kind of activity.

This essay in the Global Times, a hawkish Chinese-state-affiliated newspaper, suggests that such activity could also constitute an attack for the purposes of the law of war.  The author, a U.S.-based writer, argues that “launching attacks under another nation’s flag has long been seen as illegal under both codified law and international custom. In such a case, Chinese nationals would face financial and possibly physical risk, especially if US involvement remained undetected.”

I think this would be a stretch under the laws of war. Is snooping around in Huawei’s servers an “act of violence” within the meaning of the Geneva Convention? I don’t think walking into Huawei’s offices and ruffling through their papers is an act of violence. Taking down their servers, or planting viruses to disable those servers or related activities might be an act of violence, but even that seems a bit of  stretch under current international laws.

So the U.S. may have spied, but it cannot be said to have “attacked” China, in its reported Huawei infiltration.  As a matter of international law, the reported actions appear to be legal, even if they were unwise or hypocritical.

Even More on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Hearing: Why International Law Won’t Matter Much for NSA Spying

by Julian Ku

I was fortunate to participate in a discussion held at a hearing of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board today in Washington D.C. I say “participate in a discussion” because it was not like giving testimony to a congressional hearing where the congressman make speeches and ask questions unrelated to your testimony.  Rather, it was closer to a mini-oral argument with five judges asking you questions about difficult legal issues (luckily, there were three other panelists though to field most of the questions).  The members of the PCLOB are all engaged and asked tough questions of me and of my fellow panelists. (I think C-SPAN will have video of our panel posted here)

The written testimony that was submitted (as well as  comments from the general public) can all be found here at the Regulations.Gov website. I want to flag for this blog’s readership the day’s last panel, which focused on international and transnational legal issues related to the NSA’s Section 702  surveillance program.  Three members of that panel (former State Dept. Legal Adviser John Bellinger, Human Rights Watch’s Laura Pitter, and the Max Planck Institute’s Ulrich Sieber) tackled the ICCPR’s applicability to overseas surveillance as well as the applicability of rules of customary international law.  (Video can be viewed here).  For those who don’t have the patience to watch the video or view the transcript, I live-tweeted the panel here).

Let me just add my two cents on the issues in this panel: Based on the questions, I don’t think the majority of the members of the PCLOB are convinced that international law does, or even should, constrain U.S. surveillance under Section 702.  They are also unimpressed with the complaints of foreign governments, most of whom have similar overseas surveillance schemes but with fewer oversight mechanisms.  The only concern that seemed to bother the Board was the fact that U.S. companies selling information technology overseas are being tarred with the NSA label, making it harder for them to compete in foreign markets.  These are just my impressions, mind you, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the final PCLOB report on Section 702 gives short shrift to international law issues.  (By the way, I would expect the opposite in their treatment of the Fourth Amendment, however).

Anyway, something to keep an eye on….

Wondering About the Legality of U.S. Overseas Spying? Tune Into Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Hearing

by Julian Ku

For those readers who are interested in the legal aspects of the U.S. government’s wide-ranging overseas intelligence gathering program, C-Span 2 will be broadcasting portions of today’s oversight hearing of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.  The PCLOB is a federal watchdog agency charged with reviewing the U.S. government’s intelligence efforts in light of privacy and civil liberties concerns (a preview of witness testimony can be found here).  Lawyers from the key federal agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA), as well as legal scholars and NGOs will be participating.  I will be speaking on the second panel focusing on constitutional and statutory issues related to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which creates procedures for limiting the targeting of U.S. citizens overseas’ communications. (Spoiler Alert: I’m pretty OK with the constitutionality of U.S. overseas electronic surveillance).  In the afternoon, friends of the blog like Eric Posner and John Bellinger will be discussing international aspects of these programs. Should be interesting.

 

Is the Crimea Crisis a Factual or Legal Disagreement?

by Julian Ku

University of Memphis law professor Boris Mamlyuk criticizes most U.S. international law commentary on the Crimea/Ukraine crisis for failing to take seriously the Russian point of view. I’ve noticed several commenters here have also complained about our pro-Western bias.  Part of the problem is that there is a dearth of international law commentators writing in English in favor of the Russian legal position. Even Prof. Mamlyuk’s short essay doesn’t try to defend or explain Russia’s legal position, except to point out that Ukraine may have committed some minor violations of its own.  But let me try to at least explore Russia’s position in more detail. The best defense I can come up with is that Russia is arguing the “facts” and not the “law.”

During today’s Security Council debate, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin appears to have given a fuller defense of Russia’s legal position, at least vis-a-vis the upcoming Crimea referendum.

“Some dispute the legality of such a referendum, but it is unacceptable to manipulate individual principles and norms of international law, randomly pulling them out of context not only of the international law, but the specific political circumstances and historical aspects,” Churkin said.

In each case, the envoy believes, one should “balance between the principles of territorial integrity and the right for self-determination.”

“It is clear that the implementation of the right of self-determination in the form of separation from the existing state is an extraordinary measure. In Crimea such a case apparently arose as a result of a legal vacuum, which emerged as a result of unconstitutional, violent coup d’état carried out in Kiev by radical nationalists, as well as direct threats by the latter to impose their order on the whole territory of Ukraine.”

I am pretty surprised that Russia is  endorsing this expansive view of self-determination, which I think could be fairly invoked by certain parts of Russia itself (Hello, Chechnya!).  But I suppose the dispute here with the West could be understood as factual rather than legal.  Most scholars would accept the idea that self-determination is appropriate in certain exceptional circumstances, such as decolonization or when facing the threat of genocide or other mass killings. No one west of the Ukraine border seems to think Crimea qualifies (except the good folks at RT) because none of us think that the new Ukrainian government has threatened Crimea in any tangible way.  But Russia could be understood to be arguing the facts (see, Crimea really is threatened by the fascists in Kiev) rather than the law.  I think it is a pretty ludicrous factual argument, but there it is.

Russia’s position on the use of military force is also factual rather than legal.  It argues that there are no Russian forces in Crimea other than the naval forces that are stationed there by treaty right. It simply denies that the forces in control in Crimea are official Russian troops.  This appears to be an even more ludicrous factual claim, but it also would mean that Russia accepts that open displays of military force would be a violation of the Charter.

Russia’s shift to factual rather than legal arguments is smart because it parries US and EU criticisms about the “violation of international law.”  It doesn’t rebut those charges terribly well, mind you, but perhaps the argument is just strong enough to convince those who want to find ways to accept the legality of Russia’s actions.

Does It Really Violate International Law for Crimea to Hold a Referendum on Secession?

by Julian Ku

I am looking forward to the contributions to our “insta-symposium” on Ukraine and international law. I don’t have a tremendous amount to add at this point, except to point out that President Obama has been aggressive about accusing Russia of violating international law and about the importance of international law generally.  This has gone beyond merely charging Russia with violation of the prohibitions on aggression and the use of force contained in the U.N. Charter.  In his statement today, he took aim at the proposed referendum in Crimea on joining Russia:

He also said that a proposed referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea region — one that, as proposed by proposed by pro-Russian Crimean lawmakers, would ask residents whether Crimea should be part of Ukraine or Russia — would “violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law.”

Any discussion about a referendum must include Ukraine’s legitimate government, Obama said. Washington considers Ukraine’s legitimate government to be the one installed by Parliament after last month’s ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych following months of protests.

Putting aside the Ukrainian law question, it is interesting that the U.S. government is specifically condemning the proposed referendum as a violation of international law.  Why exactly would the mere referendum (as opposed to the act of secession) violate international law?

I look forward to the views of our contributors and my fellow co-bloggers on this point, but on my first reading, the claim that the referendum would violate international law is undercut by the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion on Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence.  In that opinion, the ICJ found (among other things) that general international law does not prohibit unilateral declarations of independence. I don’t see how the proposed referendum is really any different from a unilateral declaration of independence, at least from the perspective of international law.  The authors of the “unilateral” declaration of independence did not consult Serbian authorities (much less get its consent). Like the declaration of independence, the referendum does not by itself “secede” Crimea from Ukraine under international law.  And unlike the declaration of independence, the referendum could find support (if other conditions are met) in the law of self-determination.

I am personally sympathetic to the Ukrainian government here. But I am not sure President Obama is right about this legal point, and even if he is, I am not sure the U.S. ought to be committing itself to the position that this referendum is illegal.   If there is a deal to be made here (as Henry Kissinger recommends here), this statement seems to make it harder to get to that deal.

I have one final thought on why this statement might make sense. There is one country who is probably more opposed to a referendum on secession than the U.S: that would be Russia, which can’t exactly be ready to endorse this possibility for Chechnya or other restive Russian regions. Nor are the Chinese going to be excited by this referendum (think what a referendum in Tibet or Xinjiang would look like).  The President may be counting on the Russians to put a stop to the referendum, and maybe this statement would help them do that.  I hope that is the strategy, anyway.

Why Won’t the United States Call China Killings a Terrorist Attack?

by Julian Ku

While Russia was stealing all the attention over the weekend, a small group of assailants wielding knives killed at least 33 people and injured over a hundred in the main railway station of Kunming, China.  China’s government has called these “terrorist attacks,” and has hinted it is linked with Uighur separatists in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province.  But the failure of the U.S. State Department to use the term “terrorist” has drawn outrage in Chinese social media.

I understand the U.S. government’s reluctance to endorse the Chinese government’s description of these attacks, but I still think the term “terrorist” is perfectly appropriate for this situation.  The attackers indiscriminately killed and injured civilians in a train station, and there seems plenty of evidence that it is motivated by politics and ideology.  To be sure, the international definition of terrorism remains contested, but the US law definition seems applicable.

the term “international terrorism” means activities that—

(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;(B) appear to be intended—

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping;
Look, I get that this definition is quite broad, and is controversial in many countries. And I get that the Uighurs have real grievances. But the US government is already on the record in favor of the broad definition. So why hold back from using the term for an act the US already calls unjustifiable?

Russia Reminds the World (and International Lawyers) of the Limits of International Law

by Julian Ku

I agree with Peter that the mere breach of the international law governing the use of force does not mean that all international law is useless and meaningless. But I don’t think Eric Posner’s pithy challenge to the international law academy on Ukraine can be so easily dismissed. International lawyers need, especially in this area, to provide a meaningful theory as to why international law affects state behavior, and why (as in this case) it seems to be having very little impact on Russia’s decision to use armed force in Ukraine.  Contra Peter, the fact that sometimes constitutional or corporate law rules are ignored or violated doesn’t really answer the question here.  When those norms are widely ignored (as with constitutional law rules in countries like China), then it is rational for actors in China to ignore those rules in most circumstances and most legal theorists would not call it “law” in any meaningful sense.

Which brings me to the Ukraine crisis.  I agree with Erik Voeten that international law and institutions will be helpful in other ways.  And I think Chris provides very helpful analysis of how international law can shape official state rhetoric.  But the fact remains that the international law restraining the use of armed force has utterly and completely failed to constrain Russia’s actions in  Ukraine.  This is more than simply adhering to the legislative veto. This is a body blow to a foundational piece of the international legal system.

In academic terms, the failure of the Charter  is evidence for both realists (who think international law never matters), but also for rational choice theorists like Posner, as to how international law really works.  Rational choice folks think that international law works best (in fact, works at all only) when states have a rational self-interest to cooperate around certain legal norms and institutions.  But where states no longer have such a rational self interest, states will depart from those legal norms.  Compliance with international law for the sake of complying with international law is naive and unrealistic.

The Russia-Ukraine crisis also impacts real-world policymaking. If international law, or at least the Charter’s rule on the use of force, is very weak or non-existent as a tool for restraining state action, then policymakers should not rely on the Charter rule as meaningful protection against aggression.
A strong military or a network of alliances would probably have been a better idea.  States must not overestimate the impact or force of this species of international law (as Ukraine’s new government seemed to do) when making decisions.  And states like the United States should be careful incorporating this rule into its domestic legal processes, or over-privileging its role in its own domestic public debate.

I may be biased as an American, but the U.S. has about the right balance on this. It does not ignore the Charter, but it does not treat the Charter as having too much independent significance except to the extent it affects the actions of other states (especially its allies).  The key thing to focus on in this crisis are the interests of the different states (and leading groups within states).  State interests are driving actions here, and the Charter violation seems to be doing almost now work.

The fact that the Charter is plainly being violated will not necessarily mean that Charter proponents like France and Germany will get tough with Russia (in fact, both are going the other way by opposing sanctions or any NATO consultations).  The fact that the Charter is plainly being violated will not mean China (another big Charter proponent) will do anything other than closely watch developments and urging “all sides to comply with international law” without naming any country.

International law can be, and often is, a very important tool for facilitating international and transnational cooperation.  But it is not doing much to resolve to Ukraine crisis, and international lawyers need to admit that.

Don’t Panic! The Budapest Memorandum Does Not Require US and UK to Defend Ukraine

by Julian Ku

Lots of reports, including those from the new Ukrainian government at a meeting of the UN Security Council, suggest that Russian military forces have crossed into Ukraine. This has caused a mild panic on Wall Street and some typically overwrought press reporting from, just to give an example, Britain’s Daily Mail.

A treaty signed in 1994 by the US and Britain could pull both countries into a war to protect Ukraine if Putin’s troops intervene.

Bill Clinton, John Major, Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma – the then-rulers of the USA, UK, Russia and Ukraine – agreed to the The Budapest Memorandum as part of the denuclearization of former Soviet republics after the dissolution of the Soviet Union

Technically it means that if Russia has invaded Ukraine then it would be difficult for the US and Britain to avoid going to war.

Uh…no it doesn’t. At least not from my reading of it.  It might be a good idea for the US to stand up for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and it is true that the Budapest Memorandum commits Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity (I thought Russia’s president wanted to respect international law?).  The UN Charter does that anyway. The Memorandum does not in anyway obligate any country to intervene in order to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

In other words, it is not a security guarantee, like the kind that the US has with Japan. It is also not a formal treaty which, at least under US law, would have more binding impact.  So relax, American doves, it’s 2014, not 1914.  International agreements will not lead us blindly to war (sorry, Ukraine!).

 

International Law: Not Helping to Resolve the Ukraine Crisis

by Julian Ku

I’m getting more and more nervous about events in Ukraine, and particularly in the Crimea.  Things are spinning (almost) out of control, and it is worth noting that international legal principles are not helping lead toward a resolution.

Instead of working out a negotiated transition, the new leaders of Ukraine have adopted a maximalist position by seizing power and then seeking to prosecute the former (?) president Viktor Yanukovych,  They’ve done this by (apparently) accepting the ad hoc jurisdiction of the ICC, and making noises about turning Yanukovych (and others) over to the ICC.

Kevin raises a very good legal point: ICC ratification appears to violate Ukraine’s own constitution as interpreted by its own constitutional court. But the new leaders of Ukraine don’t seem troubled by that ruling (or even aware of it).  So it is not surprising Yanukovych has retreated to Russia, where he can avoid both Ukrainian and ICC prosecutions.  In any event, an ICC referral will lock in Ukraine to its current path, making a negotiated transition even harder.

International legal principles are also not much help in restraining a Russian military intervention.  Russia appears to be mobilizing its military along the border, and the U.S. is warning against violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty.  It would be ironic if Russia starts to make noises about a need for “humanitarian intervention” to protect the Russian minority in Ukraine (especially in the Crimea).  It will also be ironic if the U.S. started demanding that Russia seek UN Security Council authorization for any use of force. The legal case for humanitarian intervention here is not very strong, but it is not implausible to think that retribution against ethnic Russians in Ukraine could happen.  I doubt the legality will bother Russia much (it didn’t much worry about it in Georgia), but now that Russia made such a big fuss about international law governing the use of force over Syria, will it do so here? And will anyone care?

Chinese Victims of Forced Labor Sue Japanese Companies in Chinese Courts; They Might Even Win

by Julian Ku

In a legal wrinkle to the ever-worsening Sino-Japanese relationship, the Chinese government has now publicly backed a lawsuit filed in Beijing courts against Japanese companies that used Chinese citizens as forced laborers during World War II.

The lawsuit names Mitsubishi Materials Corporation and Mitsui Mining and Smelting as defendants and asks for compensation of 1 million yuan ($163,000) for each defendant as well as apologies in the Chinese and Japanese languages to be placed with the country’s major media outlets.

Japan’s government has already opposed these lawsuits, saying that any such war reparation claims were settled by postwar agreements between China and Japan. Its spokesman:

“…I can say that since such problems were included in the Japan-China communique, there is no case,” he said. “The individual rights for seeking (compensation) were included in the communique.”

In a prior post, I noted that Korean courts have allowed similar lawsuits against Japanese companies to proceed despite pretty clear language blocking such lawsuits in the Korea – Japan Agreement on the Settlement of Property.  Unless I am missing something, however, I don’t see any similarly clear language in either the China-Japan Peace Treaty or in the 1972 Communique re-establishing diplomatic relations.  The Communique does contain this clause:

5. The Government of the People’s Republic of China declares that in the interest of the friendship between the Chinese and the Japanese peoples, it renounces its demand for war reparation from Japan.

This language could be read to bar claims by wartime victims against Japanese companies for forced labor, but that reading is far from clear (at least to me).  If you compare this language to the Korea-Japan Agreement (“problems concerning property, rights, and interests of the two High Contracting Parties and their peoples (including juridical persons)” were settled) (emphasis added) and the US-Japan Peace Treaty (“the Allied Powers waive all reparations claims of the Allied Powers, other claims of the Allied Powers and their nationals arising out of any actions taken by Japan and its nationals in the course of the prosecution of the war…”) (emphasis added), then the Japan-China Communique language looks far less protective..

In the China-Japan Communique, only the “Government of the People’s Republic of China” has “renounced its demand for war reparations.”  The people of China, or individual Chinese people, might still have claims, and there is also  no mention of waiving claims against Japanese persons or nationals.  Normally, governments only have claims for reparations from other governments.

Moreover, while the U.S. took lots of Japanese property in “compensation” during its occupation of Japan before waiving its further claims, and Korea got the Japanese to pay a cool $300 million in 1965 dollars before settling its claims, the Chinese government got nothing (at least financially) for its agreement to waive its claims.  This seems to further support the idea that some wartime claims still exist.

So read in context, the Chinese plaintiffs have a better case than their (already victorious) Korean brethren.  It is also possible that the Communique (unlike the Peace Treaty) is a non-binding international agreement, which would also not have any direct effect in Chinese courts.  So based on the relevant treaties and agreements, I think the plaintiffs have a decent case here. Inded, it is surprising that no similar lawsuit was filed before in Chinese courts.  The reason probably has more to do with the nature of Chinese courts than the international treaties and agreements relating to this lawsuit.

 

Should Taiwan and China Join Forces in Defending Territorial Claims?

by Julian Ku

As China continues to offend or at least alarm its neighbors in East and Southeast Asia with its expansive territorial and maritime claims, it is worth noting there is one important Asian player who wholeheartedly supports each and everyone one of China’s sovereignty claims:  Taiwan. (Taiwan’s government even supports China’s sovereignty claim over Taiwan, just disputing which government is “China”.)

In fact, the government on Taiwan, as the Republic of China, is actually the government that originated the now highly-controversial Nine Dash Line when it was still in power on the mainland (actually, Taiwan’s line has Eleven Dashes, so it is even more expansive).  And Taiwan has the exact same sovereignty claim over the Diaoyu Islands/Senkakus that China has.  Taiwan actually houses a lot of the academic firepower and expertise on the international legality of these various maritime claims.

So this editorial from a pro-China Taiwan newspaper, calling for a joint China-Taiwan policy in favor of the South China and East China Sea claims, kind of makes sense.  If you overlook the fact that the two sides are still technically at war and all that.

In my view, Taiwan should jettison at least the most expansive of China’s claims, especially the Nine-Dash-Line.  It is odd, even ridiculous, for the government in Taiwan to support this claim of sketchy legality when (unlike China), there is no prospect of Taiwan ever asserting actual control over the South China Sea. And because the U.S. is now officially opposed to the Nine-Dash-Line, Taiwan needs to re-evaluate its position. If Taiwan sticks to its positions, and even starts cooperating with China on exerting their claims, then it is another sign that Taiwan is slowly drifting into China’s orbit and away from the U.S.  It may be a sign that, as leading realist scholar John Mearsheimer wrote this week, Taiwan’s eventual domination by China is only a matter of time.

Japan and Korea Take Their (History) Wars to U.S. State and Local Legislatures

by Julian Ku

A lawsuit filed yesterday in California federal court seeks the removal of a statue in a Glendale, California public park honoring women victimized by the Japanese military during World War II.  The placement of the statue was approved by the local city council with the strong support of Korean and Korean-Americans who want to recognize the suffering of the “comfort women”. The lawsuit appears to claim as one of its arguments that the local city council is interfering in national foreign affairs in violation of the US Constitution.

This lawsuit is only the latest front in a spreading battle between Korean and Korean-American groups and the Japanese government in various state and local legislatures.  In Virginia, the state legislature (again with strong Korean-American voters support) passed legislation requiring textbooks in public schools to note that the Sea of Japan is also called the “East Sea.”  New Jersey is considering similar legislation, and already has its own “comfort women” memorial.

As a legal matter, I can say with high confidence there is no serious argument that the placement of a statue in a public park, or the rewording of textbooks, violates the federal government’s foreign affairs authority under the Constitution.  No legal rights of foreign nationals are involved, nor is this a matter traditionally handled by the national government, nor does the US-Japan Treaty of Peace preempt this action.  So this aspect of the anti-memorial folks’ lawsuit seems pretty hopeless and borderline frivolous.

I am less sure about the policy benefits of this type of activity.  For US legislators this is just a cheap and easy way to get support from a growing voter population.  China’s government has tried a similar strategy to garner Korean friendship on a much grander scale when it put up a huge memorial to a early-twentieth-century Korean anti-Japanese revolutionary.  But those actions are purely out of self-interest.

On the other hand, all of this seems like a relatively gentle way to prod the Japanese on these issues.   In any event, expect to see more action at the state and local level in the U.S. One hopes (although this seems a vain hope) that this activity might even spark some useful Korean-Japanese debate on matters that they can’t seem to talk about much back in Asia.