I write from Beijing, where the two-day Conference of the Asian Mediation Association has been held, organized by the China Council for Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) Mediation Centers.  I was very excited to return to Beijing after nine years’ absence and to meet so many like-minded, but differently-situated, colleagues.

The Conference, held by the AMA every two years, attracted over 300 participants from 16 countries.  A total of 42 speakers shared fascinating perspectives on commercial mediation, including legislative and court-annexed  systems as well as private provision of business dispute resolution.

 

Many of the themes articulated by the first morning’s speakers resonated throughout the conference.  Several speakers used the term “non-confrontational” when describing the central utility of business mediation.  The concept was that face-to-face accusations are unhelpful in resolving problems and affirmatively harmful in maintaining business relationships, so the intervention of a mediator to keep talks positive and forward-looking was highly valued.

ZHOU Quaing, President of the Supreme People’s Count of the People’s Republic of China, emphasized the beneficial consequences of such an approach to society as a whole: Mediation, he proposed, was not just a private agreement, and the social consequences of dispute resolution were so great that it has become recognized as an important component of the Chinese legal system, with consequent concerns that it be performed professionally by trained mediators.

Andrew PHANG Boon Leong, Judge of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Singapore, suggested that formulations of “rights and entitlements” do not give sufficient weight to equally important societal virtues such as “compassion, duty and economic relationships.”  He suggested that the purpose of separate caucuses in mediation was not, as often supposed in America, to determine the underlying interests of a disputant, but rather “to unearth issues that may cause one party embarrassment.”

LONG Fei, Director of the Supreme People’s Court’s Judicial Reform Office, linked gradations of mediation expertise with the challenges that the process is designed to address.  “people’s mediators” give way to “industrial mediators,” “commercial mediators,” “invited [i.e., specialized] mediators” and finally “professional mediators.  She also observed that dispute resolution outside of adjudicative judicial processes is a matter in which public resources ought to be directed, inasmuch as the process is inexplicably intertwined with the same matters of public concern that justify public maintenance of the court systems.

TANG Weijian, of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, expressed an underlying theme of the event by suggesting that “power, interest and self-realization” are virtues that are secondary to harmony, the sustenance of which is essential to society.

Each of the many panels and keynote speakers at the Conference contributed fresh and interesting perspectives, especially to this Western student of dispute resolution.  Among the many other speakers at the Conference were:

LU Pengqi, Vice-Chairman of CCPIT

JAING Zengwei, Chairman of CCPIT/CCIOC

Richard WAGNER, of the American firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP

David LIM, Court Mediator of the State Court in Singapore

Danny McFADDEN of CEDR

Laurence BOULLE, Director of the Mediator Standards Board in Australia

Robert RHODES QC, Outer Temple Chambers in London

Francis LAW Wai Hung, President of the Hong Kong Mediation Centre

Fahmi SHAHAB, Executive Director of the Idonesian Mediation Center

LOONG Seng Onn, Executive Director of the Singapore Mediation Centre

Judge Suthatip Jullamon TASANACHAIKUL, Judge of Office of the President of the Supreme Court of Thailand

Shane PICKERING, Mediator at the Ministry of Employment, Fiji

The hero of the event was WANG Fang, Deputy Director of the Secretariat of the CCPIT Mediation Center and current Secretary-General of AMA.  Her leadership of her staff and vision of the conference were exceptional and resulted in one of the finest and most intellectually robust international mediation events I have ever attended.

 

F. Peter Phillips is an arbitrator and mediator practicing through Business Conflict Management in Montclair, New Jersey. He is also the Director of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program at New York Law School where, as Adjunct Professor, he teaches Alternative Dispute Resolution, Negotiation, and International Commercial Dispute Resolution.