China - 3-Legal Regime China - Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
In China’s complex legal and regulatory system, regulators and other government authorities inconsistently enforce regulations, rules, and other regulatory guidelines. Foreign investors rank inconsistent and arbitrary regulatory enforcement, along with the lack of transparency, among the major problems of doing business in China. Government-controlled trade organizations and regulatory bodies set standards that often ignore Chinese transgressors while strictly enforcing regulations against targeted foreign companies. In China’s regulatory system, different agencies at both the central and local levels issue rules and regulations that impact foreign businesses in certain geographical areas and in certain industries. Some of these rules are only guidelines that are not necessarily considered part of the legal code. Because all of these regulations and guidelines could potentially impact foreign investors, foreign companies often feel overburdened by a complex regulatory system rife with contradictions and inconsistencies. Knowing how to apply central versus local rules, for example, is a common complaint of U.S. businesses that are both confused by and lack confidence in the regulatory system.
In accordance with China’s WTO accession commitments, the State Council’s Legislative Affairs Office (SCLAO) issued instructions to Chinese agencies to publish all foreign trade and investment-related laws, regulations, rules, and policy measures in the MOFCOM Gazette. Chinese agencies rarely meet these commitments. In addition, the State Council has issued Interim Measures on Public Comment Solicitation of Laws and Regulations and a Circular on Public Comment Solicitation of Department Rules, which require government agencies to post proposed trade and economic-related administrative regulations and departmental rules on the official SCLAO website for 30-day public comment period. Officials have publicly confirmed that these documents are legally binding. However, despite these efforts, ministries under the State Council continue to post only some of the draft administrative regulations and departmental rules on the SCLAO website. When drafts are published, they often are available for comment for less than the required 30 days.
While not provided for in China’s Law on Legislation, the State Council and ministries under the State Council also issue “normative documents” (opinions, circulars, notices, etc.), which are a form of quasi-regulation to implement applicable law, regulations, and rules when further specificity is necessary, or when there is no governing law. The U.S. business community reports that Chinese ministries often impose new requirements on companies through the issuance of a normative document, which, unlike the formal rulemaking process, does not necessitate a public comment period.
Proposed regulations are often drafted without using scientific studies or quantitative analysis to assess the regulation’s impact. When an assessment is made, the results and methodology of the study are not made available to the public. Third parties are asked to comment on draft regulations, but it is unclear what impact the comments have on the final regulation. This lack of transparency adds to foreign investor perceptions that industrial policy goals and other anticompetitive factors are driving forces behind China’s regulatory regime.
Chinese state actions are strongly motivated by the perceived need to protect social stability and/or achieve other political goals, many times at the detriment of foreign investors. The opaque relationship between the Chinese government, Chinese companies, and the Communist Party often makes it impossible to know where decisions originate. An example of these blurred lines is the existence of Self-Regulatory Organizations (SROs) that are responsible for certain licensing decisions. In the financial sector, Chinese financial institutions that are members of these same SROs can decide on the license applications of foreign firms. If a license decision might threaten a Chinese firm’s competitive position in the domestic market, there may be incentives to disapprove the license. For this reason, foreign firms are concerned that decisions may be made based on non-transparent and discriminatory licensing procedures.
Access to foreign online resources—including news, cloud-based business services, and virtual private networks (VPNs)—are increasingly restricted without official acknowledgement or explanation. Foreign-invested companies have also reported threats of retaliation by government regulators for actions taken by the United States and other foreign governments at the WTO or other legal forums.
For accounting standards, Chinese companies must use the Chinese Accounting Standards for Business Enterprises (ASBE) for all financial reporting within mainland China. Companies listed overseas (including in Hong Kong) may choose to use ASBE, the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), or Hong Kong Financial Reporting Standards (HKFRS).
International Regulatory Considerations
China has been a member of the WTO since 2001. As part of its ascension agreement, China agreed to notify the WTO Committee on Technical Trade of all draft technical regulations. Compliance with this WTO commitment is something Chinese officials continue to promise in different dialogues with U.S. government officials.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The Chinese court system is based on a civil law model that borrowed from the legal systems of Germany and France. Modified to account for local characteristics in China, the rules governing commercial activities are present in various laws, regulations, and judicial interpretations, including China’s civil law, contractual law, partnership enterprises law, security law, insurance law, enterprises bankruptcy law, labor law, and Supreme People’s Court (SPC) Interpretation on Several Issues Regarding the Application of the Contract Law. China does not have specialized commercial courts, but in 2014, began a three-year pilot program to establish three IPR courts in Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai; in addition, courts throughout China often have specialized IPR “tribunals” to hear disputes.
China’s Constitution provides a legal basis for courts to independently exercise adjudicative power, and several laws have provisions stating courts are not subject to interference by administrative organs, public organizations, and/or individuals. However, the Constitution also emphasizes the “leadership of the Communist Party.” In practice, China’s court system is not independent of government agencies or the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which often intervene in disputes. Interference takes place for many reasons, including:
Courts fall under the jurisdiction of local governments;
Court budgets are appropriated by local administrative authorities;
Judges in China have administrative ranks and are managed as administrative officials;
The CCP is in charge of the appointment, dismissal, transfer, and promotion of administrative officials;
China’s Constitution stipulates local legislatures appoint and supervise the courts; and
Corruption may also influence local court decisions.
The U.S. business community consistently reports that Chinese courts, particularly at lower levels, are susceptible to outside political influence (particularly from local governments), lack the sophistication to understand complex commercial disputes, and operate without transparency. U.S. companies often avoid challenging administrative decisions or bringing commercial disputes before a local court for fear of future retaliation.
Reports of business disputes involving violence, death threats, hostage-taking, and travel bans involving Americans continue to be prevalent, although American citizens and foreigners in general do not appear to be more likely than Chinese nationals to be subject to this treatment. Police are often reluctant to intervene in what they consider internal contract disputes.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
China’s legal and regulatory framework provides discretion to promote investment in specific industries and geographic regions and to restrict foreign investment not considered in China’s national interests. Laws and regulations with undefined key terms and standards allow for inconsistent application by different agencies and localities. As a result, China has in place investment restrictions that are broader than developed countries, including the United States.
Despite repeated calls by Chinese leadership to strengthen the rule of law in China, foreign investors often point out that weaknesses in the legal system allow regulators to inconsistently apply and interpret laws and regulations. This diminishes the predictability of China’s business environment and has created a feeling among U.S. investors that the Chinese legal system discriminates against them.
China’s current foreign investment regime is based on three central laws: the China-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the China-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law, and the Foreign-Invested Enterprise (FIE) Law. Multiple administrative regulations and regulatory documents issued by the State Council are derived from these three laws, including:
Implementation Regulations of the China-Foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprises Law;
Implementation Regulations of the China-Foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law;
Implementation Regulations of the FIE Law;
State Council Provisions on Encouraging Foreign Investment;
Provisions on Guiding the Direction of Foreign Investment; and
Administrative Provisions on Foreign Investment to Telecom Enterprises.
There are also over 1,000 rules and regulatory documents related to foreign investment in China and issued by government ministries, including:
Provisions on Mergers & Acquisition of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors;
Administrative Provisions on Foreign Investment in Road Transportation Industry;
Interim Provisions on Foreign Investment in Cinemas;
Administrative Measures on Foreign Investment in Commercial Areas;
Administrative Measures on Ratification of Foreign Invested Projects;
Administrative Measures on Foreign Investment in Distribution Enterprises of Books, Newspapers and Periodicals;
Provision on the Establishment of Investment Companies by Foreign Investors; and
Administrative Measures on Strategic Investment in Listed Companies by Foreign Investors.
Local legislatures and governments also enact their own regulations, rules, and guidelines that directly impact foreign investment in their geographical area. Examples of local regulations include the Wuhan Administration Regulation on Foreign-Invested Enterprises and Shanghai’s Municipal Administration Measures on Land Usage of Foreign-Invested Enterprises.
A list of Chinese laws and regulations, at both the central and local levels can be found online.
FDI Laws on Investment Approvals.
China approves foreign investments on a case-by-case basis. China claims to provide foreign investors with “national treatment,” or treatment no less favorable than the treatment it gives to domestic investors, after an investment has been established. The process varies based on industry and investment type, with overall low transparency.
Foreign investors are required to obtain approvals for establishing an enterprise and undertaking an investment project. MOFCOM pre-approval is not required for an investment not listed in the “restricted” or “prohibited” sections of the FIC, but foreign investors still need to register the investment with MOFCOM. That being said, the mere fact that an investment category is not on the FIC negative list does not guarantee approval, as other steps and approvals may be required. In some industries, such as telecommunications, foreign investors are also required to get approval from industry regulators like the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
In July 2004, the State Council issued the Decision on Investment Regime Reform and the Catalogue of Investment Projects subject to Government Ratification (Ratification Catalogue). According to the Ratification Catalogue, all proposed foreign investment projects in China must be submitted for “review and ratification” by the NDRC, or provincial or local Development and Reform Commissions, depending on the sector and value of the investment. In 2013, however, the government issued a new catalogue to narrow the scope of foreign investment projects subject to NDRC ratification. An “encouraged” investment under the FIC that does not require a Chinese controlling interest, and is in a sector not listed on the Ratification Catalogue, only needs to be “filed for record” with the local NDRC office. This policy shift marked a positive step toward easing bureaucratic barriers to foreign investment.
In November 2014, China released an updated edition of the Ratification Catalogue, which eliminated NDRC ratification requirements for 15 new sectors and delegated ratification authority to local governments in 23 additional sectors. In several new sectors, the new Ratification Catalogue also raised the threshold of foreign ownership that would trigger the requirement for NDRC approval. When announcing the reforms, NDRC stated the goal of the latest revision to the Ratification Catalogue was to limit ratification to projects relating to “national and ecological security, geographic and resource development,” and the “public interest.” NDRC estimates that revisions made to the Ratification Catalogue over the past several years would reduce the number of projects requiring ratification from central government authorities by 76 percent.
The NDRC approval process for foreign investment projects also includes assessing the project’s compliance with China’s laws and regulations; its compliance with the FIC and industrial policy; its national security, environmental safety, and public interest implications; its use of resources and energy; and its economic development ramifications. In some cases, NDRC also solicits the opinions of relevant Chinese industrial regulators and “consulting agencies,” which may include industry associations that represent Chinese domestic firms. This presents potential conflicts of interest that can disadvantage foreign investors seeking to receive project approval. The State Council may also weigh in on high-value projects in “restricted” sectors.
After receiving NDRC approval for the investment project and either notifying or applying for approval for an investment from MOFCOM, investors next apply for a business license with the SAIC. Once a license is obtained, the investor registers with China’s tax and foreign exchange agencies. Greenfield investment projects must also seek approval from China’s Environmental Protection Ministry and its Ministry of Land Resources. The specific approvals process may vary from case to case, depending on the details of a particular investment proposal and local rules and practices.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce report on Approval Process for Inbound Foreign Direct Investment
For investments made via merger or acquisition with a Chinese domestic enterprise, an antimonopoly review and national security review may be required by MOFCOM if there are concerns about the foreign transaction. The anti-monopoly review is detailed in a later section on competition policy.
Article 12 of MOFCOM’s Rules on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investment stipulates that parties are required to report a transaction to MOFCOM if:
Foreign investors obtain actual control, via merger or acquisition, of a domestic enterprise in a key industry;
The merger or acquisition affects or may affect “national economic security”; or
The merger or acquisition would cause the transfer of actual control of a domestic enterprise with a famous trademark or a Chinese time-honored brand.
If MOFCOM determines that the parties did not report a merger or acquisition that affects or could affect national economic security, it may, together with other government agencies, require the parties to terminate the transaction or adopt other measures to eliminate the impact on national economic security.
National Security Review
In February 2011, China released the State Council Notice Regarding the Establishment of a Security Review Mechanism for Foreign Investors Acquiring Domestic Enterprises. The notice established an interagency Joint Conference, led by NDRC and MOFCOM, with the authority to block foreign mergers and acquisitions of domestic firms that it believes may impact national security. The Joint Conference is instructed to consider not just national security, but also “national economic security” and “social order” when reviewing transactions. China has not disclosed any instances in which it invoked this formal review mechanism.
Local commerce departments are responsible for flagging transactions that require a national security review when they review them in an early stage of China’s foreign investment approval process. Some provincial and municipal departments of commerce have published online a Security Review Industry Table listing non-defense industries where transactions may trigger a national security review, but MOFCOM has declined to confirm whether these lists reflect official policy. In addition, third parties such as other governmental agencies, industry associations, and companies in the same industry can seek MOFCOM’s review of transactions, which can pose conflicts of interest that disadvantage foreign investors. Investors may also voluntarily file for a national security review.
Foreign Investment Law
In January 2015, MOFCOM proposed for public comment a new Foreign Investment Law. This law, if enacted, would unify and supersede the three governing foreign investment laws established by the State Council. It also would abolish the case-by-case approval system for foreign investment and replace it with a system that treats foreign investment the same as domestic investments, except in the limited number of industries enumerated on the “negative list.” The draft law calls for streamlining the approval process for foreign investment in some sectors, but contains a number of troubling provisions—e.g., broadening the definition of foreign investor, expanding the role of the national security review mechanism, increasing reporting requirements, and threatening the structure of variable interest entities (VIEs)—that could facilitate discriminatory treatment against foreign investment. To date, there have been no new announcements about a future release of the Foreign Investment Law or a timeline for its implementation.
In addition to transforming the current foreign investment regime, the aforementioned MOFCOM draft Foreign Investment Law would also establish a broad and potentially intrusive national security review mechanism. As it is currently envisaged, the national security review could be used to hinder market access and increase the financial burden of foreign investment in China.
Free Trade Zones – Negative List Approach
In April 2015, the State Council issued a General Plan for the FTZs in Tianjin, Guangdong, and Fujian that offers national treatment for the “pre-establishment,” or market access, phase of investment, except as otherwise provided under a negative list. The State Council-issued negative list for these FTZs contains 85 measures restricting foreign investment and 37 measures forbidding foreign investment. Together, this negative list has 17 fewer measures than the negative list adopted in the Shanghai FTZ in 2014 and 68 fewer measures than Shanghai FTZ’s 2013 negative list. Nevertheless, while the number of discriminatory measures declined, the most recent negative list includes no commercially significant openings for foreign investment.
China also issued in 2015 the Interim Measures on the National Security Review of Foreign Investment in Free Trade Zones. The definition of “national security” is broad, implicating investments in military, national defense, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, transportation, culture, information technology products and services, key technology, and manufacturing.
In addition, MOFCOM issued the Administrative Measures for the Record-Filing of Foreign Investment in Free Trade Zones, outlining the streamlined process that foreign investors need to follow to register investments in the FTZs.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
China uses a complex system of laws, regulations, and agency specific guidelines at both the central and provincial level that impacts an economic sector’s makeup, sometimes as a monopoly, near-monopoly, or authorized oligopoly. These measures are particularly common in resource-intensive sectors such as electricity and transportation, as well as in industries seeking unified national coverage like fixed-line telephony and postal services. The measures also target sectors the government deems vital to national security and economic stability, including defense, energy, and banking. Examples of such laws and regulations include the Law on Electricity (1996), Civil Aviation Law (1995), Regulations on Telecommunication (2000), Postal Law (1986), Railroad Law (1991), and Commercial Bank Law (amended in 2003), among others.
China’s Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) went into effect on August 1, 2008. The AML delegates antitrust enforcement to three agencies: MOFCOM to review concentrations (mergers and acquisitions); the NDRC to review cartel agreements, abuse of dominant position, and abuse of administrative powers centered on product pricing; and the SAIC to review the same types of activities as NDRC when those activities are not directly price-related. In addition, the AML established the Anti-Monopoly Commission to provide oversight, expertise, and coordination among different stakeholders and enforcement agencies. After the AML was enacted, the need to clarify parts of the law became apparent, leading MOFCOM, NDRC, SAIC, and other Chinese government ministries and agencies to formulate implementing guidelines, departmental rules, and other measures. Generally, the AML enforcement agencies have sought public comment on proposed measures and guidelines, although comment periods can be less than 30 days.
In 2015, the CCP Central Committee and State Council declared that all future economic policies would reflect China’s competition policy. In 2016, the three AML enforcement agencies drafted guidelines on six enforcement areas: anti-monopoly guidelines for the automobile industry, guidelines on determining illegal incomes and fines, guidelines on the “leniency” system in horizontal monopoly agreements, guidelines on AML settlement cases, guidelines for intellectual property abuse, and guidelines on monopolistic agreement exemptions. In addition, the State Council in June 2016 introduced guidelines on the Fair Competition Review Mechanism that targets administrative monopolies at the local level and requires agencies to first conduct a fair competition review to certify that new measures do not inhibit competition, prior to issuing new policies, laws, and guidelines. While it is too early to tell the extent to which the Fair Competition Review Mechanism will break down China’s pervasive administrative monopolies, Chinese academics in particular are optimistic that this development signals a more prominent role for competition in future economic decisions.
While China’s antitrust law developments are seen as generally positive, China’s actual enforcement of competition laws and regulations is uneven. Inconsistent central and provincial enforcement often will exacerbate local protectionism by restricting inter-provincial trade, limiting market access for certain imported products, using measures that raise production costs, and limiting opportunities for foreign investment. Government authorities at all levels in China may also restrict competition to insulate favored firms from competition through various forms of regulations and industrial policies. The ultimate benefactor of such policies is often unclear; however, foreign companies have expressed concern that the central government’s use of AML enforcement is often selectively used to target foreign companies, becoming an extension of other industrial policies that favor SOEs and Chinese companies deemed potential “national champions.”
Since the AML went into effect, the number of merger and acquisition transactions MOFCOM has reviewed each year has continued to grow. According to MOFCOM statistics, in 2016 alone, MOFCOM completed an AML review for 395 cases (a 19 percent year-on-year increase), with the majority of cases coming from manufacturing industries like semi-conductors, telecommunications, and other high-end manufacturing. Of these reviewed cases, 82 percent were finished in the initial 30-day review period. Since AML’s inception, the vast majority (over 80 percent) of cases “conditionally” approved have involved offshore transactions between foreign parties. The other “conditional” cases involved foreign companies merging with Chinese enterprises. Observers have expressed concerns about the speed and inconsistent application of the review process, along with suspicions that Chinese regulators rarely approve “on condition” transactions involving two Chinese companies, thus signaling an inherent AML bias against foreign enterprises. MOFCOM has stated it will enforce the requirement that Chinese firms, in addition to foreign firms, notify regulators of proposed mergers and acquisitions for review.
In 2016, foreign companies expressed fewer complaints than in previous years about NDRC’s AML investigations. Some experts said leadership changes at NDRC improved enforcement practices, including introduction of a more balanced approach to investigations which looks into Chinese companies more often than foreign enterprises. NDRC has also made progress in AML enforcement transparency by releasing aggregate data on investigations and publicizing case decisions. That said, many foreign companies still worry about future “dawn raids” and express concerns that NDRC regulators, along with SAIC and MOFCOM, can at any time use competition law to promote China’s industrial policy goals by targeting foreign firms to limit competition.
In bilateral dialogues, China continues to express its commitment to protect and enforce IPR across a range of industry sectors. Chinese officials are also in the process of clarifying AML guidelines that address areas where IPR and AML intersect, such as forcing foreign companies to license IPR technology to local companies at a “fair” price that does not violate a company’s “dominant market position.” Chinese officials also reiterated the need for AML agencies to be free from intervention from other government agencies. Lastly, Chinese officials committed to protecting commercial secrets obtained during AML proceedings. Despite the dialogues, U.S. companies remain concerned about IPR protections, along with the lack of independence of AML agencies from outside influences.
How the AML applies to SOEs and government monopolies in certain industries also is unclear. While language in the AML protects the lawful operations of SOEs and government monopolies in industries deemed nationally important, all three AML enforcement agencies have publicly stated the law does apply to SOEs. All three additionally claim to have pursued some enforcement action, albeit small, against SOEs. Given the prominent role of SOEs in China’s economic structure, along with the CCP’s proactive orchestration of mergers in key industries like rail, marine shipping, metals, and other strategic sectors, concerns persist that enforcement against SOEs will remain limited. These mergers in key industries have been criticized for further insulating SOEs from both domestic and foreign competition, leading to higher prices for Chinese consumers and more concentrated market power post-merger.
Expropriation and Compensation
Chinese law prohibits nationalization of FIEs, except under “special” circumstances. Chinese officials have said these circumstances include national security and when an investment presents an obstacle to achieving a large civil engineering project, but the law does not define these special circumstances. Chinese law requires compensation of expropriated foreign investments, but does not explain what method to use or the formula to calculate the value of the foreign investment. The Department of State is not aware of any cases since 1979 in which China has expropriated a U.S. investment, although the Department has notified Congress through the annual 527 Investment Dispute Report of several cases of concern.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
China is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the New York Convention). The domestic legislation that provides for enforcement of foreign arbitral awards related to these two Conventions include the Arbitration Law adopted in 1994, the Civil Procedure Law adopted in 1991 (later amended in 2012), the Law on Chinese-Foreign Equity Joint Ventures adopted in 1979 (amended most recently in 2001), and a number of other laws with similar provisions. China’s Arbitration Law has embraced many of the fundamental principles of The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration.
Investment and Commercial Disputes in the Chinese Legal System
Chinese officials typically urge firms to resolve disputes through informal conciliation. If formal mediation is necessary, Chinese parties and the authorities typically promote arbitration over litigation. Many contract disputes require arbitration by the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC). Established by the State Council in 1956 under the auspices of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), CIETAC is China’s most widely-utilized arbitral body for foreign-related disputes. Some foreign parties have obtained favorable rulings from CIETAC, while others question CIETAC’s fairness and effectiveness.
CIETAC is based in Beijing and has four sub-commissions in Shanghai, Shenzhen, Tianjin, and Chongqing. In 2012, CCPIT, under the authority of the State Council, issued new arbitration rules that granted CIETAC headquarters significantly more authority to hear cases than the sub-commissions. Expecting a loss in revenue, CIETAC Shanghai and CIETAC Shenzhen declared their independence, issued their own rules, and changed their names. As a result, CIETAC disqualified its former Shanghai and Shenzhen affiliates from administering arbitration disputes.
This jurisdictional dispute between CIETAC in Beijing and the former sub-commissions raised serious concerns among the U.S. business and legal communities, particularly regarding the validity of arbitration agreements specifying particular arbitration procedures and the enforceability of arbitral awards issued by the sub-commissions. In 2013, the SPC issued a notice clarifying that any lower court that hears a case arising out of the CIETAC split must report the case to the SPC before making a decision. However, the SPC notice is brief and lacks detail on certain issues, including the timeframe for the lower court’s decision to reach the SPC and for the SPC to issue its opinion.
Other arbitration commissions exist and are usually affiliated with the government at the provincial or municipal level. The Beijing Arbitration Commission and the Shanghai Arbitration Commission have emerged as serious domestic competitors to CIETAC. For contracts involving at least one foreign party, offshore arbitration may be adopted. Foreign companies often encounter challenges in enforcing arbitration decisions issued by Chinese and foreign arbitration bodies. Investors may appeal to higher courts in such cases.
The Chinese government and judicial bodies do not maintain a public record of investment disputes. The SPC maintains a count of the annual number of cases involving foreigners tried throughout China, but does not specify the types of cases, identify civil or commercial disputes, or note foreign investment disputes. Rulings in some cases are open to the public.
BIT with the United States, China has bilateral investment agreements with over 100 countries and economies. The majority of these agreements set mediation, domestic remedies, and international arbitration as the means to settle disputes. However, investor-state disputes leading to arbitration are rare in China.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
There are few precedents where Chinese courts have recognized and enforced foreign court judgments. Articles 281 and 282 of China’s Civil Procedure Law cover the recognition and enforcement of the effective judgments of foreign courts by the court system in China. According to these laws, if the Chinese courts determine validity of a claim, after reviewing the foreign courts’ judgments, China’s treaty obligations, reciprocity principles, basic principles of Chinese laws, China’s sovereignty, security, and social public interests, the Chinese courts shall issue verdicts to recognize the effectiveness of foreign court judgments and issue enforcement orders if enforcement is needed. China has concluded 27 bilateral agreements on the recognition and enforcement of foreign court judgments, but none with the United States. China’s recognition of judgments by U.S. courts can be inconsistent, according to anecdotal reports.
Article 270 of China’s Civil Procedure Law states that time limits in civil cases do not apply to cases involving foreign investment. According to the 2012 CIETAC Arbitration Rules, in an ordinary procedure case, the arbitral tribunal shall render an arbitral award within six months (in foreign-related cases) from the date on which the arbitral tribunal is formed. In a summary procedure case, the arbitral tribunal shall make an award within three months from the date on which the arbitral tribunal is formed.
China’s primary bankruptcy legislation is the Enterprise Bankruptcy Law, which was promulgated on August 27, 2006 and took effect on June 1, 2007. The 2007 law applies to all companies incorporated under Chinese laws and regulations, including private companies, public companies, SOEs, FIEs, and financial institutions. It is commensurate with developed countries’ bankruptcies laws and provides for potential reorganization or restructuring rather than liquidation. Due to uncertainty about authorities and procedures, lack of implementation guidelines, and the limited number of cases providing precedent, the law has never been fully enforced, and most corporate debt disputes are settled through negotiations led by local governments. The potential for local government interference, along with corporate fears of losing control, disincentivize companies from pursuing bankruptcy proceedings. Chinese courts lack capacity to handle bankruptcy cases, and bankruptcy administrators, clerks, and judges all lack experience.
In the October 2016 State Council Guiding Opinion on Reducing Enterprises’ Leverage Ratio, bankruptcy was identified as a tool to manage China’s corporate debt problems. This was consistent with increased government rhetoric throughout the year in support of bankruptcy. For example, in June 2016, the SPC issued a notice to establish bankruptcy divisions at intermediate courts and to increase the number of judges and support staff to handle liquidation and bankruptcy issues. On August 1, the SPC also launched a new bankruptcy and reorganization electronic information platform.
Although still relatively small, the number of bankruptcy cases began to pick up starting in 2015, with the government announcing in 2016 several high-profile SOE bankruptcies. The SPC reported that in 2016, 5,665 bankruptcy cases were accepted by the Chinese courts and 3,602 cases were closed, representing a 53.8 percent year-on-year increase from 2015, when only 3568 cases were accepted. Most bankruptcy cases are still resolved through liquidation due to long delays, but 1,041 cases were resolved through reorganization, an 85 percent increase from 2015. Since the fall of 2016, 73 new specialized bankruptcy tribunals were founded, along with the SPC issuing several implementing measures to improve bankruptcy procedures.