Thursday, March 19, 2009 | 4:00 AM EDT - 4:00 AM EDT

The National Committee was delighted to welcome Zhang Jingjing to a roundtable discussion held on March 19, 2009. Ms. Zhang, an environmental litigator, first came to the United States in 2005 as a participant in a National Committee program on strengthening the work of legal aid centers in China; she reported that the program had changed her, inspiring her to encourage active public participation towards environmental protection in China. As a lawyer, she believes that she has the tools – the rule of law being one of them – to make a difference, as well as the responsibility to help victims of environmental pollution. She described the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims, talked about her own evolution from legal aid to advocacy and listed what motivates her work:

• Enforcement of existing environmental laws
• Shaping new laws on the environment
• Protecting people’s rights
• Urging official transparency
• Urging judicial independence
• Encouraging Chinese law students to pursue their dreams

Ms. Zhang showed slides from a variety of cases the Center has brought around China – in Sichuan, Fujian, Anhui, Zhejiang, Guangdong, and Inner Mongolia, among others. Although the Center loses many of its cases, through its actions it empowers others by showing them that they have rights, and that the government has a responsibility to provide information and to act on problems. She spoke very positively of the Ministry of Environmental Protection (formerly the State Environmental Protection Agency), and the hard work it does to achieve better governance, albeit in the face of difficulty, particularly at the local level, in enforcing the excellent laws on the books. Public participation provides a means to assist the Ministry in enforcing laws.

Under the current economic model, the choice facing many Chinese, especially in rural areas, is pollution or poverty as investment, which leads to development, is often tied to polluting processes. However, if a locality refuses the investment, it remains impoverished. Through her legal work, Ms. Zhang is advocating for a sustainable development model.

A Yale World Fellow in fall 2008, Zhang Jingjing is now a visiting scholar at the China Law Center at Yale. She was featured in National Committee member Sue Williams’ 2008 film “Young and Restless in China.”