Center Advances Dialogue with Chinese Experts on the Role of Law and Lawyers in Military Operations


In spring 2023, the Paul Tsai China Center conducted a unique dialogue that brought together Chinese and American legal experts to address frontier issues in the role of law in military operations.

The discussion included a general session on the role of military legal advisors in the U.S. and Chinese military systems — with a particular focus on operational law — and a session dedicated to emerging questions in the regulation of lethal autonomous weapons systems. Participants included academics and former policymakers with experience advising their governments’ militaries on these matters as well as international bodies, such as the U.N. Group of Government Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems. Retired senior military legal advisors from each country added their perspectives in the dialogue. Participants from both countries expressed their belief in the importance of such exchanges and the value of these particular meetings against the backdrop of a deterioration in U.S.-China relations.

During the discussion on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS), participants from the United States, China, and other countries described the current state of regulation and debate around LAWS in their respective jurisdictions. They candidly expressed their own views on the relationship between their countries’ legal structures and the requirements of international humanitarian law, areas in which regulation might be controversial, and issues on which further debate and collaboration are necessary to advance meaningful reforms.

The discussion on the role of military legal advisors provided a rare opportunity for former military legal advisors from the United States and China to learn about their counterparts and the nature of their respective professional roles. In addition to outlining the responsibilities of legal advisors in the two militaries, participants discussed how military legal advisors are recruited, trained, and the dynamics of their relationships with military commanders.

Beyond successfully facilitating a substantive exchange on issues rarely discussed between interlocutors from the two systems, this forum helped set the stage for future engagements and the charting of a detailed agenda for comparative research and understanding.