24 May 2017

China – Dispute Resolution Methods

There is a number of dispute resolution mechanisms available for the disputes with the Chinese parties. Depending on bargaining power of the parties and few other circumstances, such as limitations of Chinese law, the dispute can be sometimes resolved outside of China. More frequently, however, the Sino-foreign disputes are resolved in China and this post offers a brief introduction to the methods available there .

As almost anything else in business, an optimal method for resolution of future disputes is worth of anticipating well in advance. Once there is a conflict, it is much more difficult for the parties to agree on the solution equally acceptable to both of them. There is a variety of options to choose from and each of them has its own advantages and disadvantages. Also, there is no “one size fits all” solution and each transaction as well as dispute should be approached individually. Of course, there is always is a default solution, which is going to state court in case the parties have not provided for any alternative mechanism, but this is not always the most optimal way to go.

Litigation

Chinese courts are commonly perceived by foreigners as rather undesirable scenario for dispute resolution. It is so due to the often mentioned problems, such as local protectionism of the Chinese courts or lack of their professionalism. However, in practice, this is not always true and especially the courts in the China’s well-developed regions, particularly in the biggest coastal cities are generally a safe harbor for disputes involving foreigners. The same holds true for the IP courts located in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. One needs to remember, however, that the jurisdiction of particular court depends on a number of factors, such as place of registration of the Chinese counterparty or place of performance of the contract and therefore, the Chinese top courts may not be the ones handling particular dispute in practice.

Arbitration

Arbitration is a common choice for foreign-related disputes in China. It happens so, because of a number of advantages of arbitration over litigation in such a context. To start with, China and the vast majority of the countries in the world are the parties to the New York Convention, which significantly streamlines the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards. There is no comparable treaty of that scale for the enforcement of state court judgements, what can cause practical problems if certain country does not have an agreement on judicial assistance with China and the enforcement of foreign court judgements is sought. Therefore, since the parties want money and not a piece of paper, the use of arbitration in the cross-border context can substantially improve the prospects for effective enforcement of arbitral award. Furthermore, in contrast to litigating in China, in arbitration English language can be used in proceeding and a party can be represented by a foreign counsel. In arbitration, the parties can also select arbitrators resolving their dispute and a foreign arbitrator is not an uncommon scenario in case of the Sino-foreign arbitration proceedings in China. The parties can also select a specific arbitration institution and rules applicable to the proceeding.

The China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC) and the Beijing Arbitration Commission (BAC) are one of the most frequently chosen arbitration institutions in China for the foreign-related disputes. Alternatively, if the circumstances of the case permit – the dispute can be taken outside of China and resolved, for instance, by  the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC) or the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC), which are fairly acceptable alternative choices for the Chinese parties.

Other options

One of the other methods popular in China is mediation. Mediation is typically faster, cheaper and increases the chances of preserving good relationship between the parties. However, one needs to remember that in order to mediate, the parties need to be willing to do so, since the role of mediator is to help the parties reach an agreement and not to ultimately decide their dispute. Furthermore, the product of mediation is a contract and so, the breach of mediation agreement typically equals to contractual breach.

One additional important tool frequently used in practice is engaging local lawyers for the purpose of negotiating with the Chinese party as soon as the dispute escalates. The lawyers can help the parties communicate and when the communication is impossible – they can prepare a document describing the claims and informing the Chinese party about the risk of undertaking further legal steps, such as staring court proceeding, what is made mainly for the purpose of brining the other party back to negotiation and finding a solution acceptable to both parties. This often helps save time and money, but it can be problematic if the other party ignores the actions of lawyer. Also, like in case of mediation, the problem lies in the enforcement of any agreement reached by the parties in the course of negotiation.


The main takeaways from this short post are the following:

  • Think about the dispute resolution mechanism in advance. There are quite many issues that need to be taken into consideration and there is no “one size fits all” solution. There might be the situations when going to the Chinese court makes perfect sense and there also might be the situations when it makes no sense at all. What is the best option for me in particular case? Which court can potentially have jurisdiction over my case? Does the country involved have a judicial assistance agreement with China for the purpose of enforcement? What should be the language of proceeding? Which arbitration institution to choose?
  • Think about hiring professionals right from the very beginning, preferably at the stage of negotiating and drafting agreements. Choosing an optimal solution for resolution of future disputes can help save a lot of time, money and energy. In case of dispute occurring already – act promptly. If the dispute escalates, think about what you can do to best preserve your rights. Should you apply for interim measures? Do you need to first negotiate before you can go for arbitration in case of multi-tier clauses? Which documents are needed to start the proceeding?

The author of this post is Monika Prusinowska.

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