Professor Heng Wang was recently awarded a Best Paper Prize at the Machine Lawyering Conference 2021 hosted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong in January 2021. The paper, titled “The Future of the International Financial System: A CBDC Network and Regulatory Outlook” explored the possible emergence of central bank digital currency (CBDC) network and its impact on the global financial network.

The Australian’s Research 2020 magazine also named Prof. Wang ‘Australian Leader in the field of international law’ for having the highest number of citations from papers published in the past five years in the top 20 journals in this field.

What has been your biggest achievement at UNSW?

“My biggest achievement at UNSW has been the development of the Herbert Smith Freehills Centre which I am a founding Co-Director of. The Centre is the result of teamwork, built on the excellent work of the China International Business and Economic Law (CIBEL) initiative involving colleagues including Professor Deborah Healey, Scientia Professor Ross Buckley and Professor Colin Picker,” Prof. Wang says.

Together, they have established CIBEL as a global leader investigating China-related and broader international business and economic law issues.

“We are moving towards a broader, regional approach to international economic law and I’m also proud that we have taken CIBEL roadshows to mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore, showcasing CIBEL research. We also continue to develop and grow the CIBEL Global Network to engage with scholars and practitioners around the world.”

Every year, CIBEL holds its CIBEL Global Network conference and the Young Scholars Workshop which offers a great opportunity for a wider audience to listen to young scholars’ research projects.

“This has been a great way to showcase UNSW’s leadership in law. We also award prizes to recognise the work of young scholars in our field and CIBEL Global Network sessions have also been broadcasted on Sky News channel 604.

Prof. Wang’s research has been reported on by leading international media and well received by the industry. In 2019, Prof. Wang was invited to high-profile industry events including the DC FinTech week in Capitol Hill in Washington DC, and also spoke at various events organised by the International Chamber of Commerce, United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), and the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

“I see value in interdisciplinary research, and I think engaging in social media, interviews with media outlets, podcasts, newsletters and events are great ways to share our research with the outside world.”

What inspired you to pursue a career in law?

Prof. Wang says his research is driven by his curiosity about the future of international economic legal order and their practices.

“At the start of my career, I wanted to conduct research and I really enjoyed cases that attracted me to the law of the WTO. Today, I'm more curious about the future of international economic and legal order such as the trade war between the US and China, and the emergence of new digital currency.

“I think everyone – businesses, policymakers and individuals – have to be prepared for what will happen in the future and think about possible implications of them. Having this mindset helps us to be better prepared to adapt to future changes in the world.”

Can the trade tension between Australia and China improve?

Prof. Wang says that trade between Australia and China will continue, although it could be much affected by tariffs.

“Australia-China trade is a win-win situation. If trade is reduced, that means you could pay higher costs for the same products, and the consumers will end up paying the price. I think trading will continue because China will need to keep trading for its economic development. But it will be a very challenging landscape.”

Prof. Wang reflects on the history of trade wars and how it has taken countries an extended period of time to recover.

“I think it's important to have states agree on the rules of trade, and to deal with the disputes.  The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which was signed last year does not provide for high level provisions and dispute settlement for trade remedies. Realistically, WTO dispute settlement is probably the only way forward, legally speaking. That said, the WTO dispute settlement system is in crisis because the re-appointment of Appellate Body judges has not been done.”

How do you expect your areas of research to evolve in the next 10 years?

“We may have more fragmentation in the market. There is an absence of rules on new issues such as digital privacy, data flow, social issues, subsidies, state-owned enterprises, and competition. Current multilateral rules and some of recent free trade agreements like the RCEP are not fully equipped to deal with these issues,” Prof. Wang says.

“We’ll also see that the impact of technology and unforeseen circumstances such as COVID-19, will likely speed up the process of fragmentation due to the lack of consensus on many issues. An example of this is how technology such as AI can assist in reducing costs and increasing efficiency.

“But it can also bring concerns about privacy, data security, and misinformation. New technologies do bring opportunities, but also challenges for businesses and regulators. It will be crucial to undertake the research into these issues and engage with different stakeholders to reap the benefits and address the challenges.”

Dawn Lo