The issues of human rights and rule of law were front and center at the start of a national competition that brought together students from more than 30 law schools across China.
The setting was a national competition, where Chinese law students face off in simulated court proceedings in front of a panel of judges.
The contest focused on public international law, so several ambassadors addressed the students at Monday's opening session.
American Ambassador Jon Huntsman stressed that a transparent legal system is one of the key features of any developed society.
"By setting clear rules and holding people accountable to them, regardless of their status or guanxi [connections], a strong legal system creates an environment that fosters economic growth, protects people from persecution and contributes to social stability and ensures peoples' rights, well-being and property," he said.
Huntsman praised China for lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in recent decades. He said strengthening the legal system is crucial to China's continued economic development, by fostering entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as attracting foreign investment.
But, at a time when high-profile cases of Chinese dissidents running afoul of the law make international news headlines, Huntsman also urged greater protection of individual rights.
"When someone who has worked to make China even better, someone who addresses important issues respectfully, and in accordance with Chinese law, is detained, tried and convicted, in violation of China's own laws, China undermines the credibility of its legal system, and makes it less likely that others will stand up and work for the betterment of society," said Huntsman. "People must be able to speak truth to power," he stressed.
German Ambassador Michael Schaefer said Having solid rule of law also is important for conducting international relations.
"It is not only each member of the society who needs legal certainty, states interacting with each other are in need of legal certainty as well. In our global world, where everyone and every state depends on the other, it's even more necessary to be able to rely, in a very predictable way, on each other," he said.
Han Dayuan is the dean of the Renmin University Law School, which is hosting the competition. He acknowledges there are some human rights violations and imperfections in China's legal system. But he says there already is a basic public consensus on the need to protect human rights.
Han says human rights is beyond any one country's sovereignty and has become a global issue for all of humanity. He says he thinks human rights should be emphasized by all countries, not just some of them.
This is the 8th year of a Chinese national round for the Jessup Moot Court Competition, which is the largest in the world. The winning Chinese teams will compete in Washington at the end of March.