International Law

I recently spoke with a reporter who asked me why our clients that had chosen to locate in Vietnam had chosen Vietnam over China. I mentioned lower costs, less competition, and how some had told me that it was because they just flat out preferred spending time in Vietnam to China. He then said, “But it must be strictly the low costs in the end, right?” I said that could not be the case because if companies were choosing their locations on low costs alone, countries like Yemen and Niger would be on the top of their lists, rather than nowhere on them.

We are always getting asked why our law firm has its lead China lawyer and an office in Qingdao — we also have an office in Beijing, but nobody ever asks us why there. The answer is actually quite simple, particularly when compared to the high-level analysis many companies employ in making their location decisions. Steve is in Qingdao because we have had an excellent relationship with Qingdao’s biggest (and I think best) law firm for nearly a decade, and that firm was instrumental in helping us establish ourselves in China. But probably the driving factor in our choosing to locate in Qingdao is that Steve loves the place and loves that he can easily afford to live in a luxury apartment with twelve-foot-high windows overlooking the East China Sea at about half the price (and the pollution) of Shanghai or Beijing. The fact that at least 80 percent of our China work is 2-3 hours from Qingdao by plane only adds to its attraction. Steve is completely fluent in Chinese (as is our other attorney stationed there), and so Qingdao’s small expat community and dearth of people who speak English is no deterrent…

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For every 100 Wholly Foreign Owned Entities (WFOEs) and Joint Ventures (combined) my firm helps set up in China, it only sets up one Representative Office. Why so few, when Rep Offices are the easiest entity for foreigners to form in China? Because their inherent limitations mean they seldom make sense.

Representative Offices are aptly named — they are the China representative of the foreign company. A Rep Office is not considered a separate legal entity in China, and it is limited by law to performing “liaison” activities. It cannot sign contracts or bill customers. It cannot supply parts or perform after-sales services for a fee. It cannot earn any money in China or take any payments from a Chinese person or business for any reason.

Rep Offices are pretty much limited to engaging in the following…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “How To Form A China Representative Office… But Why Would You?”

American companies make a lot of mistakes in China. And even when they don’t make mistakes, they get frustrated.

I view both of these results as healthy, because mistakes and frustration are par for the course in China, and the sooner companies realize that the better. That said, they could avoid at least some of their heartbreak by following these five principles…

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When it comes to negotiating, Chinese companies view American companies as easy marks: impatient, unfocused and too willing to compromise to avoid losing out. Accordingly, Chinese companies often employ the following three negotiating techniques:

1. Wear down the American side down with endless issues. This tactic actually has two variants. In the first variant, the Chinese side raises a series of issues. Once these initial issues are resolved, the Chinese side then raises a series of unrelated new issues. This process never stops, because the list of issues is endless. The second variant is for the Chinese side to make several unreasonable demands and then refuse to address the American company’s concerns at all. Both variants are designed to induce the American side to concede on all major points out of a desire to keep the deal moving forward….

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The United Nations

Ed. note: Please welcome our friends from OZY. We’ll be sharing some of their great law-related content in our pages.

International law enforcement is an enticing idea.

There are real villains and real victims. But sometimes an international legal solution is worse than no solution. This is true of a number of popular proposals on the table today for supposedly bolstering our international legal order. Here’s what proponents of those ideas get wrong about international law:

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At least once a month, one of the China lawyers at my firm will get a call from someone asking us to form a “China company” for them before they start doing business in China “next month.” The problem with this is that forming a China company typically takes at least four months and after you finish this post you will understand why.

American lawyers often take on domestic company formations as a loss leader because the work tends to be fast and easy and they expect that the firm will get additional legal work once the company is formed. With China company formation, I often joke that the process is so onerous that our client never wants to speak with us again after we finish…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Forming A China Subsidiary Company (WFOE)”

I estimate that 90 percent of U.S. companies doing business in or with China have intellectual property requiring protection from China. Therefore, it is always a surprise to me how many of these companies seem to treat their intellectual property in China as an optional or secondary matter when it really should be one of the first issues they consider when approaching the China market.

Let’s first get clear what I am talking about when I use the term “intellectual property.” IP is not patents, trademarks, copyrights, etc. These are simply tools for protecting intangible assets.

So what is intellectual property?

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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?

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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.

Why do I see Vietnam as the ideal plus one country?

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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.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Drafting China Contracts That Work”

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