Yesterday, I wrote a post on how important contracts are in China. The post was about a China Daily article on what has been described as China’s first foreign nail house. The China Daily article included an interview with CLB’s own Steve Dickinson, who said the case really hinged on the lease agreement (i.e., the contract) between the landlord and the tenant. According to Steve, the lease itself would control whatever compensation the landlord would be required to pay the tenant for the tenant’s eviction due to the building being demolished.
The thrust of my post, entitled, “China’s First Foreign Nail House. Dude, Where’s Your Contract?” was that contracts are usually determinative in China. In response to this post, “Sean” asked this great question in the form of a comment:
“So when is the contract everything, and when do you have to be worried about a judge ruling against you in the interest of “fairness” to the Chinese counterpart? (“Fairness” in terms of your previous post here.)
Sean was referring to a post we did, entitled, “China Sex, Mistresses, And Improper Payments, And What They Mean For Your China Business Litigation ” where we talked about how Chinese courts tend to look much more at the equities of a situation than at the literal meaning of the contract or of the written laws.
Despite it being a great question, I am pretty much not going to answer it directly. I am not going to answer it directly both because I do not have enough empirical evidence (who really knows why a court or an arbitrator rules the way they do) and because it does not really need a firm answer. The answer is that Chinese courts and arbitrators generally do look at equities much more than courts in the West. It is also true that you are a foreigner involved in a lawsuit in China against a Chinese company, you are already behind on the equities count. A contract is not always going to be the only decisive factor in your case, but you are always going to be better off having a strong contract that favors you than having a strong contract that does not favor you, a weak contract that does not favor you, a weak contract that does favor you, or no contract at all.
So we can discuss how much having a strong and favorable contract, but I think that time would be better spent drafting the next strong and favorable contract because even though I cannot measure with specificity the value of such a contract, I know it is far more valuable than not having one.
What do you think?