A few weeks ago, China’s police accused GlaxoSmithKline’s former head of China operations of making illegal payments to Chinese doctors to boost GSK drug sales. Last fall witnessed the high-profile trial, conviction, and life sentence of Bo Xilai, the former head of the Chongqing Communist Party, on bribery charges. These two cases send a clear warning: Beijing is cracking down on corruption. Hard.
The GSK case shows that China will not tolerate corrupt activities by foreigners in sensitive industries, especially when such activities result in higher consumer prices. Beijing going after a foreign company for allegedly increasing health care prices is a smart political move, especially since the Chinese web is rife with complaints about exactly that.
But at the same time, it has become clear that Beijing is serious about rooting out corruption. The Party leaders in Beijing know that widespread corruption weakens their legitimacy and they are looking for ways to combat it. The important link between the Bo Xilai and the GSK cases is that they both involve defendants — a political elite and a foreign entity — whose arrests have engendered widespread discussion and sent a strong signal that no one in China is safe from prosecution. While Westerners are mostly complaining about the GSK arrests (multiple GSK employees have been arrested in addition to its former head of China operations), the Chinese internet is mostly loving it.
As a foreign company doing business in China, how should you react to the recent corruption crackdown?
We’ve been talking about officially-sanctioned Chinese hacking for years. Whether the narrative involved offensive attacks on U.S. systems or industrial espionage, the “China threat” was a reliable talking point when discussing cybersecurity. Was the extent of the threat a little overblown? Sure. Hey, the Pentagon needed to spook some legislators into opening the pocketbook. But the idea that the Chinese government was trying diligently to hack into American systems was accurate.
And now the U.S. is doing something about it. It may not be much, but the Department of Justice is filing charges against five Chinese officials in the People’s Liberation Army (known as Unit 61398) for industrial espionage….
I am writing this from Hanoi, Vietnam, where I have been for the last week, working on legal matters for American companies doing business in Vietnam. Viewing firsthand how Vietnam has responded to this week’s anti-Chinese riots has prompted me to write on the impact those riots and the sentiments that led to them might have for American businesses in Vietnam.
Many American companies doing business in China have what is commonly referred to as a “China plus one strategy.” Such companies will have the bulk of their Asian operations in China, but will also be active in at least one other Asian country to hold down costs or reduce over-dependence on China. The increasing cost of labor (and other inputs) in China has accelerated the number of companies considering this strategy.
If you do a Google search for “China plus one,” Vietnam is listed one, two and three as the “plus one” that specifically mentions another country. It is also the country my law firm’s clients most often mention when considering where to go outside China.
There are three rules for making contracts enforceable in China:
Make the jurisdiction a China court.
Make the governing law Chinese law.
Make the governing language Chinese.
American companies routinely insist on contract provisions that effectively render their contracts unenforceable in China. By their own efforts, they make their contracts worthless, much to the amusement of the Chinese side of the transaction.
It is perhaps a truism by now, but if you are doing business with China, you need to be on your guard against fraud. Recently, an old chestnut known as “the switched bank account scam” has seen a dramatic resurgence, because it has become so easy to perpetrate and so difficult to prevent.
I get at least an email a week from law students seeking advice on what they should be doing to secure a law firm job involving China. This post is my once and future answer to those emails.
Two kinds of firms have a China law practice: mega firms (I began my career at one) and high end boutiques (I founded one). A small number of in-house lawyers also do China work, but nearly all of these lawyers went in-house after working for a mega firm or a high end boutique. Both kinds of firms generally interview only law students with top grades from highly rated law schools.
This means that entry-level China law jobs in the United States are generally limited to only the best students at the best schools. On top of this, most mega firms do not have recent graduates work on international law matters because they believe associates must first master corporate law or tax law or dispute resolution or labor law or IP law or whatever before being tasked with the additional layer of complexity of an international matter.
So what are the options for a law student who wants to practice China law?
Whenever clients ask about filing a trademark in China via the Madrid System, our answer is simple: filing a national application directly with the Chinese Trademark Office (CTMO) is better.
China’s trademark system is complicated and overseen by oftentimes capricious examiners, especially as compared to the one-size-fits-all Madrid application that makes registering a trademark in China seem so easy. All you have to do with a China trademark filing via the Madrid System is check the box marked “China.” This lulls Madrid applicants into a sense of complacency, but all too often the result is a rejection that could have been avoided with a national application in China.
Madrid applications are supposed to be cheap and quick, but fixing Madrid problems after the fact is neither. This “Madrid problem” is exacerbated by U.S. lawyers comfortable filing in Madrid but with no experience filing in China.
Trademark prosecution in China is highly mechanical. For the vast majority of applications, you file an application and then wait 18 months for your trademark to be registered or rejected. (A slight oversimplification, but not by much.) China has no CTMO equivalent to a USPTO office action, no back-and-forth with trademark examiners, and no chance to amend an already filed application.
For this reason, the meaningful work for Chinese trademark applications occurs before you file the application…
In an Atlantic Monthly article, The View from There: What living in England, Japan, and China has taught one American about the character of his own country, James Fallows discussed how easy it is to misunderstand other countries and how Americans misunderstand China:
When living in Japan, I heard accounts from many Japanese who had gone to the US for business or study in the 1950s, after the Allied occupation ended. They looked at the factories and the farms and the vastness of America and asked themselves: What were we thinking? How could tiny Japan have imagined challenging the United States? After the Soviet Union fell and the hollowness of its system was exposed, many Americans asked: What were we thinking about “two superpower” competition with the USSR? Its missiles were lethal and its ideology was brutal and dangerous. But a rival to America as an overall model? John F. Kennedy was only one of many to suggest as much, in his 1960 campaign references to the prestige gap as well as missile gap that had opened. Eventually, we all learned there was no comparison at all. I think if more Americans came to China right now and saw how hard so many of its people are struggling just to survive, they too might ask: What are we thinking, in considering China an overall threat? Yes, its factories are formidable, and its weight in the world is huge. But this is still a big, poor, developing nation trying to solve the emergency of the moment. Susan Shirk, of the University of California at San Diego, recently published a very insightful book that calls China a “fragile superpower.” “When I discuss it in America,” she told me, “people always ask, ‘What do you mean, fragile?’” When she discusses it here in China, “they always ask, ‘What do you mean, superpower?’”
I thought of Fallows’s article after speaking last week on China law before the county bar association. My talk had been mistakenly “advertised” as being about “doing business in Asia.” Wanting to disabuse anyone of the notion that I would be providing insights into doing business in all of Asia, I began by making clear what I would and would not be discussing…
The first thing you should do is conduct a Chinese-language internet search of your potential Chinese counterparty. This sort of search is not likely going to be enough to make you feel good about going forward with a $10 million deal, but it frequently can give you enough negative information on your potential Chinese counterparty to convince you not to do any deal at all.
Next, do your due diligence the old fashioned way. Ask your potential Chinese counterparty to provide you with its government registration documents and, if relevant to your deal, its accounting and tax records as well….
It is almost always a waste of time to sue Chinese companies in United States courts. But this seems to be news to many American lawyers.
Just about every month, my firm gets a call from a lawyer somewhere in the United States expecting us to jump at the chance to help enforce a multi-million dollar U.S. court judgment against a Chinese company.
The problem is China does not enforce U.S. court judgments…
Average law school debt for graduates of private universities hovered around $122,000 last year. With only 57% of new attorneys actually obtaining real lawyer jobs, recent graduates have a lot to consider when it comes to managing their student loan payments. Thanks to our friends at SoFi, today’s infographic takes a look at student loan debt, including the possible benefits of refinancing for JDs…
Kinney Recruiting’sEvan Jowers is currently in Hong Kong for client meetings and still has a few slots available through October 22. Evan will also be in Hong Kong November 14 to December 15. Further, Robert Kinney has been in Frankfurt and Munich this week and is available for meetings with our Germany based readers.
One of our key law firm clients has referred us to one of their important clients in the US, Europe and China – a leading global technology supplier for the auto industry – in order to handle their search for a new Asia General Counsel and Asia Chief Compliance Officer.
Kinney is exclusively handling this in-house search.
This position will have a lot of responsibility and include supervision of eight attorneys underneath them in the Asia in-house team. The new hire will report directly to the global general counsel and global chief compliance officer, who is based in the US. The new hire’s ability to make judgement calls is going to be as important as their technical skill set background.
The position is based in Shanghai and will deal with the company’s operations all over Asia and also in India, including frequent acquisitions in the region.
It is expected that the new hire will come from a top US firm’s Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong offices, currently in a top flight corporate practice at the senior associate, counsel or partner level. Of course, the candidate can be currently in a relevant in-house role.
The JOBS Act created new tools for companies to publicly advertise securities deals online. As a result, thousands of new deals have hit the market and hundreds of millions in capital has been raised, spurring a wealth of new business development opportunities for attorneys.
Fund deals, startup capital raises, PIPE deals and loan syndicates are just a handful of the transactions benefiting from the JOBS Act. InvestorID FirmTM is a platform designed to help attorneys equip their clients with the workflow, marketing and compliance tools to publicly solicit a securities offering online. By providing clients with the tools to painlessly navigate the regulatory landscape of general solicitation, InvestorID FirmTM helps attorneys add value above just legal services.
The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) went into effect in 2013 and permits Regulation D offerings of securities to be advertised publicly. This means that funds and companies can now use social media, emails and web sites to market transactions to new “accredited” investors.
However, with these new powers come new pain points. InvestorID FirmTM provides a secure, fully hosted, cloud-based platform with a breadth of tools for your clients, including: