Valentina Vadi on China's role in promoting Non-Trade concerns in International Investment law. Should we be optimistic?

How do international investment law, arbitration and China political and economic system relate to each other? Is it possible to reconcile Chinese investment treaty policy with non-economic values, and, more generally, to integrate them into the text of investment treaties? Professor Valentina Vadi in her essay in the gLAWcal book on China’s contribution in non-trade concerns explores these questions, and offers an optimistic outlook on these issues. The article takes, as its background, a highly-discussed topic, namely the rapid and steady integration of China in the international investment law field. China’s – as it is pointed out – has signed more than 130 bilateral investment treaties (BIT), more than any other countries in the world, except Germany. The Author traces the historical origins and steps of this trend- While concluding that China has now embraced a true marked-based approach for its economic development, it is also stressed China’s capacity not only to adopt foreign models, but also to adapt them to its historical, cultural and social circumstances (so-called “Chinese way”). For example, only in this way it is possible to explain why, until now, very few disputes have arisen in the area of BITs. Then, Professor Vadi goes on analysing China’s Outward Foreign Direct Investment (OFDI) programs, by stressing its strengths and defects. China’s policies in this field, indeed have caused much concern in the international legal academia for their social, economic and environmental impacts. The main question here is: are those social, human, cultural, environmental concerns compatible with China’s political structure and with its desire to become a global superpower? Is – in other words – sustainable development worth to be considered in this field, and, if yes, how can it be embraced? The question is much more concrete than we think - for example, it is reported the case of Sinosteel Midwest Corp., a Chinese company wholly owned by the Chinese government. When this corporation leased land with the intention to develop an iron mine on the site of Wilgie Mia in Australia, concerns arose with regard to the protection of indigenous cultural heritage. Is it possible to reconcile this different land uses? In the final part, it is assessed the status quo. It is pointed out how the structure of more recent Chinese BITs has become more equitable and aware of their social and global significance. A slight optimistic view is, thus, permitted. While it is, indeed, in China’s best interest to negotiate more equitable BITs, only time will tell if such new level drafting can promote the respect of Non-Trade concerns in practice.