Foreign Investment in China

China lawyers
Trading Babe Ruth was a big mistake. So what?
Donald Trump is that fantasy sports team owner who vetoed every trade involving Team China or Team Mexico (except his own, of course).  But now he’s become the league commissioner and he’s promised to fix or renegotiate all of those “bad” trade deals. Yikes.

Donald Trump and Peter Navarro, head of the newly formed White House National Trade Council, are always bitterly complaining about the huge trade deficit the United States has with China and other “bad” countries. But trade deficits should not be equated with unfair trade or with the alleged utter destruction of American manufacturing. This is like complaining that a baseball trade was so bad it caused the team not to win the World Series for, say, 86 years. Or, complaining that your team is suffering from a seven-to-one player trade deficit even though your team gave up seven players who were either nobodies, soon to be has beens, or never will bes, and your team gained a perennial All-Star or future Hall-of Famer in return.

The U.S. trade deficit with China does not mean the United States is losing to unfair trade. Trade of goods is just one part of what drives our economy. Though the United States may run a deficit in the trade of goods (both overall and with China), we run a surplus in the trade of services.  Also, China and Japan each own more than $1 trillion in U.S. Treasury bills, bonds, and other securities. Moreover, foreign companies are “insourcing” and purchasing U.S. assets, such as buying U.S. companies or investing in building new factories, shopping malls, hotels, etc. Harping on the United States’ trade deficit while completely ignoring other economic factors in which the United States has a surplus is an incomplete and misguided way to evaluate how the U.S. economy is performing. Full disclosure: my firm and especially our international trade and our China lawyers have a lot of skin in this game as we generate millions of dollars a year in services directly related to US-China trade.

Looking at trade balances between countries as if they were a zero-sum game to be “won” or “lost” does not make sense because countries don’t actually engage in trade with each other on a national level. Only companies and individuals in each country trade with one another. A trade (for fantasy league baseball players or for real life goods) happens only if both sides believe they are exchanging comparable value with each other. China exports boatloads of goods to the United States because U.S. companies and individuals see those imports as the best value for their specific needs. A good chunk of the imports contributing to the U.S. trade deficit are used to manufacture higher value-added products in the United States. The U.S. imports crude oil for U.S. refineries to produce gasoline and other higher-value petroleum products. Boeing airplanes include all sorts of parts imported from around the world. If Party A and Party B each a consensus that a trade is mutually acceptable, and there is no sign of fraud or collusion, why should the President/League Commissioner intervene and try to fix those so-called “terrible” trade deals?

Even those trades perceived to have been lopsided or unfair does not mean that the losing team on the deal needs rescuing or that the deal should be voided or undone. Teams make stupid deals all the time.

Every team hopes to avoid making bad trades, just as reducing the U.S. trade deficit is not wholly a bad idea. But reducing trade deficits by itself will not restore America’s manufacturing jobs any more than avoiding bad trade deals by itself will get teams a championship ring. The effects of a huge trade deficit or a bad trade deal, either in the market place or on the playing field, tend to work themselves out over time because there are so many other factors that go into the country’s economic performance or team’s performance. A good President/League Commissioner would know better than to try to fix every “bad” trade deal or trade deficit he doesn’t like.

Editor’s Note:  If you talk with people who regularly do business with China, especially people with companies that do business in China, they will mostly tell you that what they/we need is not so much higher duties on imports, but more pressure exerted on China to level the playing field for foreign companies doing business in China.

Negotiating with Chinese CompaniesJust read a post over at Andrew Hupert’s ChinaSolved Bog, entitled, 5 Negotiating Lessons from Sec. of State Tillerson’s Beijing Trip. Hupert, who I count among the foremost experts at negotiating with Chinese companies, uses Tillerson’s recent Beijing trip as the springboard for explaining five tips on how foreign companies should negotiate with Chinese companies.

Before I get to the five tips however, I want to highlight what I see as one of the best, one of the most realistic, and — most importantly — one of the most accurate descriptions on what it is like to negotiate with a Chinese company:

We’ve seen it before. The Chinese side raises their glasses of Mao-tai and proposes a long relationship of mutual understanding and joint cooperation. The western side “gambei’s” and then makes their own polite toast about “long term cooperation, success, and prosperity”.

Now, at this point the westerners feel they are done with the preliminary small talk, and are ready to begin the opening phase of the REAL negotiation.

The Chinese side feels they are running the new partnership, co-own the intellectual property, and will make all substantive decisions about operations, hiring, and distribution.

If you for any reason do not believe the above accurately reflects how the typical Chinese company views its dealings with foreign companies you should memorize the above and then in one year of dealing with China ask yourself again whether it is accurate or not, because it just is.

Now on to a some of the Hupert five.

That treacherous opening Chinese toast. Hupert notes how Tillerson, “like many western execs before him, . . . doesn’t seem to understand what the Chinese believe he’s agreed to. This is true. Our China lawyers almost never document a China deal without there being at least one issue on which our Western client believes the China side has agreed to something to which it has not. There are many explanations for why this always seems to be the case, ranging from cultural and language differences to the China-side penchant for agreeing to something to get something in return for that agreement and then retrenching from the previously agreed upon item after it has already succeeded in getting concessions from the Western side.

Manage the agenda, and then focus on individual deal points. Western negotiating protocol is to focus on the key negotiating goals, but Chinese negotiators “always” have a larger agenda. Or as Hupert puts it, “too many western executives fighting internal deadlines and hoping to satisfy their HQ sacrifice big-picture strategy for short-term deliverables.”

Watch the timing mismatch. “Don’t make real concessions now for longer-term promises.”  Western companies too often believe that if they make xyz concession to their Chinese counterparty now, their Chinese counterparty will make the next concession the next time around. Wrong. Where we see this a lot is with Western service companies cutting their rates to Chinese customers to “get into China now”  and “build loyalty, all with the plan to raise their prices later. Problem is that the Chinese company for whom you just cut your prices will view your loss leader pricing as their ceiling, not as a floor and it will move on to another naive Western company for its next contract. Or as Hupert puts it

You’re in the same boat – but who is the captain and who is the crew? Hupert concludes his post by highlighting how different perspectives so often can lead to problems down the road. Hupert uses the example of how it is “relatively easy to get a Chinese negotiator to agree in principle to a cooperative partnership,” but how that “cooperative partnership is viewed by the two sides will be very different. “Both sides tend to walk away thinking that they will have the power and authority to protect their interests and further their positions. In practice, however, Chinese tend to feel that they will call the shots on issues pertaining to China.”

For more on how to negotiate with Chinese companies, check out the following:

China lawyers for forming a China WFOEThe below is what our China lawyers have been telling our clients about China’s new rminimum capital requirements rules when forming a WFOE. Note that China the country has its laws/rules on this and many of China’s cities have their own rules on this as well. And in addition to the rules, you also must consider local “customs” in addition to what is on paper. With all of  these provisos, here is a fairly recent email we have been using with our clients for whom we are forming a Shanghai WFOE.

We are required to set forth the registered capital for the WFOE. The rules on registered capital have changed substantially in the past two years. Here is the basic current situation:

1. Registered capital is the amount of capital (not earnings) required to get a WFOE started. This amount is typically based on the amount of money needed by the WFOE before the WFOE starts earning sufficient income to cover the WFOE’s financial obligations. This amount is unique to every WFOE. For a WFOE that will build a petrochemical plant, the number may be over a billion dollars. For a two person consulting WFOE, the number is often quite small. For a WFOE that will _____________ and also ____________ in Shanghai, the number is somewhere in between.

2. China now has no formal requirement for the amount of registered capital. In general, the JIngan local government recommends that registered capital be at least equal to the first two years expenses of the WFOE. However, there is no fixed rule.

3. There is also no longer a requirement on when the capital must be contributed and there is no fixed rule on the amount of each contribution of capital. The rule is now a business standard: there must be enough capital to cover the operations of the WFOE. In particular, there must be enough capital to cover employee salaries, rent, utilities and government charges and taxes. It is a violation of law to start a business/WFOE in China if these basic expenses are not covered with a capital contribution. The government generally requires that the total registered capital be contributed within 20 years, which effectively means there is no time pressure on the contribution.

4. But it is a mistake to set the capital number too low. The source of both capital and income for this WFOE will be payments from the shareholder (your U.S. entity). Under Chinese law, payments from the shareholder that exceed the registered capital amount are treated as income to the WFOE and are taxed at China’s normal income tax rates. Capital contributions, on the other hand are not taxed.

5. The following are the two common approaches for determining the appropriate registered capital amount:

a. Use the local government recommendation of an amount equal to the first two years expenses of the WFOE (the “rule of thumb” approach).

b. Work with your accountant to determine an appropriate amount (recommended). If your accountant is not familiar with China (and most are not) and also able to handle international and cross-border accounting issues (again, most are not), let us know as we work with a number of such accountants and we would be happy to recommend one to you.

For us to assist you in determining an appropriate registered capital amount, we need to see the following:

i. Projected expenses for the first two years of WFOE operations.

ii. Projected sources of income to the WFOE in the first two years of WFOE operations:

a) As payments from the shareholder.

b) As payments from the affiliates of the shareholder (if any).

c) As income payments received from unaffiliated third parties (if any).

iii. Five year projected pro forma for the WFOE.

We do not need this financial data if you will make the decision working with your accountant or by adopting the rule of thumb method.

6. We need to provide the registered capital amount at the very beginning of the WFOE application process. You therefore should make the determination of the registered capital amount a top priority matter.

Please contact me if you have any questions on this.

China WFOE lawyerLast week I wrote a post on how our China lawyers have been receiving a steady onslaught of calls from American companies with “employees” or “independent contractors” in China, but no China business entity. The onslaught has continued, and now I know more about why.

China banks (owned by the Chinese government) are providing information to China’s tax authorities regarding account-holders who consistently receive money from foreign companies. China’s tax authorities are apparently going to these individuals and pressuring them into spilling the beans on why they are receiving their funds from overseas. Upon learning of a foreign (usually American) company that has “employees” or “independent contractors” in China, the Chinese government pounces.

If you are a foreign company operating in China without a China WFOE and you are trying to figure out what to do, your choices are relatively simple and stark.

But before I talk about your limited choices, I feel compelled to explain again why it is that so many foreign companies are still operating illegally in China. Chinese law limits hiring China-based employees to only Chinese legal entities. This means that if you are an American software company, you cannot hire someone in China to do your coding or to provide your support services. This means that if you are a Australian company selling widgets, you cannot hire someone in China to sell widgets for you. This means that if you are a British company that has your products manufactured in China, you cannot hire someone in China to do your quality control for you.

Any person (as opposed to a registered China business entity) performing employment-like services for you in China is your employee because China does not recognize independent contractors in anything other than extremely limited circumstances (and your circumstances do not qualify!). And Chinese law requires you pay both employer taxes and benefits on that employee. These employer taxes and benefits vary from city to city, but they usually total around 40 percent of an employee’s salary. China also mandates employers withhold around 15 percent of their China-based employees’ wages for individual income taxes. But those companies that do not realize they have employees in China are not doing that withholding either. Then on top of the employer and employee taxes, the foreign companies with employees in China are almost always going to be viewed by the Chinese tax authorities as “doing business in China” and that is because they almost always are. The foreign company is now almost certainly liable for having failed to pay its corporate taxes as well.

So when all is said and done, the foreign company owes a heck of a lot of taxes to the Chinese government, plus steep penalties, plus interest. Needless to say, the Chinese tax authorities salivate over collecting these taxes and interest and penalties.

In my previous post, I noted two common ways companies operating in China without an entity get caught:

One, we are hearing of long loyal “contractors” going to their employers and saying that if their employer does not double or triple their pay, they will report the foreign company to the Chinese authorities because their doing so will get them a tax amnesty (and perhaps even a portion of the taxes collected?). We are also hearing of vendors with whom the foreign company has no beef making essentially similar threats. Two, and most importantly, we are hearing that the Chinese government is poring over bank records and questioning people (your “employees”) who regularly receive funds unreported funds from overseas.

It is the second way of getting caught that is steeply rising.

What then should you do if you are right now operating in China without a Chinese company. You have essentially the following three choices:

  1. You double-down in China by getting legal. Quickly, but very carefully. If you want to operate in China for the long term and you can afford to do so, you form a Chinese company, almost certainly a WFOE. For a flavor of what this involves, check out The NEW Steps for Forming a China WFOE. Note that it is not inexpensive to form a WFOE and if you do so you will need to start paying your employer taxes and you will need to start withholding your employee taxes and you will need to pay income taxes to the Chinese tax authorities on the income you earn in China. If you are going to choose this tact, you should do so immediately because in our experience, if you get caught before you even commence the process of forming your China WFOE, your chances of avoiding having to pay back taxes are slim to none. But if you can  at least get going on forming your China WFOE, your chances of avoiding having to pay back taxes are shockingly good. But not only should you get legal fast, you should get legal in a way that neither tips off the Chinese government about your previous (illegal and untaxed) activities in China and in a way that works for both your vendors and your “employees.” If just one of your vendors or “employees” believes that your China changes will make things worse for them, you are at great risk of being ratted out to the Chinese tax authorities and seeing your China operations collapse.
  2. You ditch China entirely. If you either do not want to get legal in China or cannot afford to do so, your best course of action is to simply cease everything you are doing in China and leave. Doing this tends to anger vendors and “employees” and it certainly does not guarantee that you will always be safe from the Chinese tax authorities. So if you do this, we strongly recommend that neither you nor any of your foreign employees go to China for a long long time, preferably ever. For why this is so, check out How To Avoid Getting “Detained” in China and Why Your Odds are Worse than you Think. Both you and any of your foreign employees linked to your illegal operations in China are at risk both from your vendors/employees and from the Chinese government.
  3. You make your stand and you die a slow (or a quick) death in China. A third option is to just keep doing what you have been doing in China and do it until caught and closed down. Just as with ditching China entirely, if you do this you and your foreign employees should not go to China again. The added risks of doing this are that your China vendors and employees may seek to take advantage of your situation. Here are some of the examples of this that we have seen:
  • A vendor learns from one of your “employees” that you are not operating legally in China and uses the threat of informing on you to the government to raise prices.
  • Your employees use the threat of your illegal operations to get an increase in salary. I know you are probably thinking that your employees are also at risk for getting caught for not paying taxes, but trust me when I say that this is a classic case of asymmetrical warfare and if you think their risks/costs as a Chinese individual are anything approaching yours as a foreign company, you are just flat out wrong.
  • Your employees literally take over your China operations, leaving you with nothing in China. This is most common when your China personnel are designing or developing something for you for eventual sale, be it a physical product or software. The following two egregious examples nicely highlight how this sort of thing can happen. The first was a U.S. software company that for more than three years paid for an office in China and paid fifteen people to develop a piece of software. Then, when the software was finally completed, rather than turn it over to the US company, the China employees started selling it themselves. The US company came to my firm wanting to sue but how could it and for what? The other example was a US company that used its China operations to source and to oversee the manufacturing of licensed products for a very large US entertainment company. The US company owner was denied a visa to go to China and his employees in China used that as an opportunity to take over the China operations and they did so pretty much without missing a beat. They went to the US entertainment company and offered to continue with “business as usual” but at prices 20 percent lower than they had been. The US company said yes and the US company owner wanted us to sue. But sue whom and where and for what? How can you sue someone in China when you have never had a company there and everything you have done there has been completely illegal?

The above three options are your only reasonable choices, but we have twice heard of an additional option from potential clients, which really is not an option at all. Two companies under extreme pressure from their vendors/employees have made clear to us that none of the above three options are acceptable to them and they want our China lawyers to engage in what they call the “political” or “guanxi” option. Are you kidding me? Are we supposed to do the following:

Hi, we represent Company A. Company A is an American company that has been operating 100% illegally in China for the last _____ years. Despite having _____ [number] of employees in China, Company A has never paid an RMB in employer taxes nor has it ever contributed even one single RMB in employer benefits. On top of this, it has failed to withhold employee taxes and it has not paid anything in income taxes either. But despite these criminal law violations and despite it having no intention of even trying to get legal, we think it makes sense for you to not only allow Company A to continue flaunting Chinese law, but to lean on the vendors/employees with which Company A is having disputes.

Perhaps what they mean by politics/guanxi are bribes, but we will not even go there with them. There is no way any of my firm’s lawyers are going to risk jail time in China and the United States for anyone. Just no way. And of course, they shouldn’t either.

Oh, and note that a Hong Kong company is NOT the equivalent of a PRC company. For purposes of the above, it is the equivalent of having a United States company and having a Hong Kong company will NOT help you avoid the above problems, not even in the slightest. See Having A Hong Kong Business Does NOT Make You Legal in Mainland China and A Hong Kong Company Is NOT a Mainland China Company and a Hong Kong Trademark is NOT a Mainland China Trademark.

Bottom Line: If you are a foreign company operating in China but you are not on the gird there, get legal or not, but don’t be stupid.


China lawyersChina has greatly revamped its WFOE formation procedures, making WFOE formations easier in some ways and more difficult in other ways. See China’s New Foreign Investment Law — Less Than Meets the Eye.

Because the WFOE formation procedures are so new, our China lawyers have been getting a number of calls from Western companies whose WFOE formations have stalled or simply died out, usually stemming from an inability to work through the new system with the local authorities. One of the things our China attorneys do with our WFOE formations is to set out early and often the steps that must be followed and accomplished for our clients to come out on the other side with a spanking new China WFOE.

I was cc’ed on an email the other day from one of my firm’s China attorneys  to a client for whom we are working on setting up a China WFOE. The email does such a good job setting out what must be accomplished to form a WFOE under the new WFOE formation rules, I thought my reprising it here (taking out any and all identifiers of course and adding in a few links) could prove helpful to anyone out there looking to form a China WFOE.

Here goes:


As you know, the PRC government drafted a new foreign investment law last fall and also promulgated a new set of regulations concerning the procedure for registering WFOEs in China. Each local government has been working out their internal procedures for adapting to this new system. Your WFOE in _____________ will be one of the first WFOEs to make use of the new system.

We have been working closely with the ____________ authorities (the Administration of Industry and Commerce of AIC). The local AIC has finally made their basic decisions on the procedure they will follow for the formation of a WFOE under the Foreign Invested Enterprises (FIE) law and associated Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) regulations.

The steps in the application will be as follows:

1. WFOE name approval.

2. MOFCOM online registration.

3. Application to form WFOE submitted to local Administration if Industry and Commerce (AIC).

4. Issuance of business license by AIC.

5. Start of business processes: a) open bank accounts, b) cut and register chops, c) open tax and other government accounts, d) set up daily bookkeeping and reporting to the local government, e) execute written employment agreements with employees and open employee tax/social benefit accounts,.

We will be working through each step in order. I will shortly be sending you a series of emails on what we need for step one, the WFOE name approval.

Our team will work with you on Steps 1 to 4 above. With respect to Step 5, we will work with you on drafting your employment agreements for China and your employer rules and regulations. On the other procedures in Step 5, we can take you through all the procedures up to the point where you are ready to formally do business in China.

Step 5 will involve your needing to decide on the following:

  • Local bank.
  • Local bookkeeper.
  • Accountant for tax returns and annual audit and reporting to the parent entity (can be same as B, or different).
  • Employee payment processing and maintenance of employee social benefit accounts.

We must report these names during the formation process, so we will need an answer as soon as is practical. We, of course, are happy to assist you in finding appropriate service support.

As noted, I will send an follow up email explaining the name approval process and the current status.

Please contact me if you have any questions on this matter.

China and MexicoThe following is a guest post by Adrián Cisneros Aguilar.* A Spanish language translation is directly below the English version.

Mexico and China have never had particularly close economic ties. But recent comments by Qiu Xiaoqi, China’s Ambassador to Mexico, suggest things may be about to change. After referencing President Trump’s threat to reject the TPP and renegotiate NAFTA, Ambassador Qiu stated that China would be Mexico’s “ally in Asia” and was “willing to redouble efforts … to boost the development of relationships in the coming years.” These statements followed Chinese President Xi Jinping presenting the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as an alternative to TPP, and making state visits to Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

Mexican media seized upon Ambassador Qiu’s statements as evidence of a new era of Sino-Mexican friendship, particularly in light of the perceived hostility toward Mexico from President Trump. So-called “China consultants” in Mexico have also tried to capitalize, promoting their events with slogans such as: “if Trump erects a wall, China extends you a bridge.” Chinese oil companies have made no secret of their desire to participate in Mexico’s petroleum industry. And meaningful high-level meetings are taking place between the Chinese and Mexican governments Last month, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, met with then-Minister of Foreign Relations Claudia Ruiz-Massieu to resolve lingering issues relating to ill-fated Chinese projects in Mexico such as the Mexico City-Queretaro high-speed railway and the Dragon Mart Cancun, and discuss the adoption of an ambitious joint action program. As a major Mexican newspaper pointed out: “everything points to a good flirtation between Mexico and China.”

In part, this flirtation is driven by Mexicans’ fear that Donald Trump may seriously curtail access to the U.S., their largest market. Even some of my most open-minded clients have started talking about closing their accounts in the US and including China as part of their international strategy. Regardless of whether they’ve previously done business with or in China.

I am of course bothered by the trajectory of current events in the United States, but at the same time I don’t see much clear thinking about what China really wants from Mexico, and whether the kinds of ties proposed by China are really strategically sound for Mexico. China’s recent statements unsettle me for the following reasons:

  1. They assume Mexico is desperate for a new trading partner to hedge against losing access to the U.S. economy; that is, without the U.S. the Mexican economy is doomed.
  2. They assume Mexico requires another country to be its protector. Our economy may not be a juggernaut, but neither is it in dire straits. Many of our recent problems stem from the dramatic devaluation of the Mexican peso versus the US dollar after the presidential election.
  3. They improperly frame the current debate as a choice between the US and China. I am a firm believer in regional integration, particularly with China and other Asia-Pacific countries, because I think it makes Mexican companies more productive and more competitive. But President Xi’s and Ambassador Qiu’s statement that Mexican companies ought to turn to China only because the US is closing is wrongheaded. It should be in Mexico’s interest to go to China regardless of what happens with the U.S.
  4. They play upon Mexico’s inability to think beyond absolute terms: everything is either a “threat” or an “opportunity.” A more rational approach accepts that every bilateral relationship has ups and downs. But when the Mexican government states that “whatever Mexico and China achieve in their trade relationship will be the starting point for a new world economic order” and that the inauguration of President Trump “represents both the need to set new horizons and reinforce new paths [to] face this threat” (emphasis mine), we fall back on hyperbole when we should be confronting the true implications of making deals with China and the U.S.
  5. They are simply not based in reality. My own experience, which I see reflected in many pieces here on the China Law Blog, is that it is becoming more difficult to do business in and with China. Mexico’s trade deficit with China is almost  insurmountable, and investment flows between Mexico and China are virtually non-existent and show no signs of improving. Language and cultural barriers make it difficult for Mexicans and Chinese to follow each other’s laws and regulations, as do “unwritten” rules necessary to conduct business. And misconceptions prevent both Mexican and Chinese companies from realizing the full spectrum of business opportunities in the other’s market.

In my next post, I’ll take a closer look at the current economic relationship between Mexico and China.


*Adrián Cisneros Aguilar is the founder/CEO of Chevaya (驰亚), an Asia-Pacific internationalisation services company. Adrián has a Doctor of Laws from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and an LL.M. in International and Chinese Law from Wuhan University.


México y China nunca han disfrutado de lazos económicos especialmente estrechos. Pero, recientes declaraciones del Embajador de China en México, Sr. Qiu Xiaoqi, llevan a pensar que la situación está a punto de cambiar. Tras hacer referencia a la amenaza del Presidente Trump de rechazar el TPP y renegociar el TLCAN, el Embajador Qiu declaró que México tendría en China “un aliado en Asia”, y estaría dispuesta a “aumentar esfuerzos…para inyectar nueva energía en el desarrollo de estas relaciones en los próximos años.” Estas declaraciones siguieron a la presentación, por parte del Presidente Xi Jinping, del Acuerdo Comprehensivo Económico Regional (RCEP), liderado por China, como una alternativa al TPP, así como de visitas a Ecuador, Perú y Chile.

Los medios mexicanos tomaron las declaraciones del Embajador Qiu como la prueba de una nueva era en la amistad Sino-Mexicana, en especial a la luz de la percibida hostilidad hacia México de parte del Presidente Trump. Los supuestos “consultores sobre China” en México han tratado también de sacar partido de esto, promoviendo sus eventos con eslóganes como: “si Trump levanta un muro, China te tiende un puente.” Las petroleras chinas no han ocultado su deseo de participar en el sector de hidrocarburos de México. Y, reuniones significativas de alto nivel han tenido lugar entre los gobiernos de China y México. El mes pasado, el Consejero de Estado, Sr. Yang Jiechi, se reunió con la entonces Canciller, Sra. Claudia Ruiz-Massieu para resolver desencuentros pendientes en relación a proyectos fallidos chinos, tales como el tren de alta velocidad CDMX-Querétaro y el Dragon Mart Cancún, así como discutir la adopción de un ambicioso programa de trabajo conjunto. Como señaló un importante periódico mexicano: “todo indica que hay un buen coqueteo entre México y China.”

En parte, este coqueteo es impulsado por el miedo de los mexicanos a que Donald Trump restrinja el acceso los EE.UU., su más grande mercado, lo cual ha causado que muchas empresas del país incluyan a China en su estrategia internacional, en buena medida para cubrir sus apuestas respecto a los Estados Unidos.

Aun cuando estoy molesto por el curso actual de los acontecimientos en EE.UU., no veo mucho análisis objetivo acerca de lo que China realmente quiere de México, como tampoco estoy seguro de si la clase de lazos que China propone son estratégicamente adecuados para el país. Las recientes declaraciones de China me incomodan por las siguientes razones:

  1. Porque dan por sentado que México está buscando desesperadamente un nuevo socio comercial para resguardarse frente a la pérdida de acceso a la economía estadounidense. En otras palabras, que la economía de México está perdida sin los EE.UU.
  2. Porque asumen que México necesita de otro país para protegerlo. Nuestra economía no estará boyante, pero tampoco se encuentra en tantos apuros. Muchos de nuestros problemas recientes se derivan de la dramática devaluación del peso mexicano frente al dólar americano, tras las elecciones en ese país.
  3. Porque categorizan erróneamente al debate actual como una elección a hacerse entre México y China. Yo soy un firme creyente en que México debe integrarse con China y otros países de Asia-Pacífico, pues creo que ello volverá a las empresas mexicanas más productivas y competitivas. Sin embargo, el discurso del Presidente Xi y del Embajador Qiu respecto a que las empresas mexicanas deberían voltear a China solamente porque EE.UU. se está cerrando para ellas es equivocado y obstinado. Debería ser en interés de México que éste se acerque a China, independientemente de lo que ocurra en los EE.UU.
  4. Porque juegan con la incapacidad de México de pensar más allá de términos absolutos: todo es ya sea una “amenaza” o una “oportunidad.” Un enfoque más racional acepta que toda relación bilateral tiene sus altas y bajas. Pero, cuando el Gobierno mexicano declara que “lo que China y México logren hacer en su relación comercial será el punto de partida para un nuevo orden económico mundial” y que la toma de posesión del Presidente Trump “representa al mismo tiempo la necesidad de plantear nuevos horizontes y reforzar ante esta amenaza nuevos caminos” (énfasis añadido), seguimos cayendo en lo mismo, cuando deberíamos estar enfrentando las verdaderas implicaciones de hacer tratos con China y EE.UU.
  5. Porque simplemente no están fincadas en la realidad. Mi propia experiencia –y que veo reflejada en muchos de las entradas aquí en el China Law Blog– es que se está volviendo más y más difícil hacer negocios en y con China, y que las empresas que tienen éxito en este sentido son aquéllas que proceden con cautela. El déficit comercial de México con China es casi insuperable, mientras que los flujos de inversión entre ambos países prácticamente no existen y no muestran signos de aumentar. Las barreras de lenguaje y culturales dificultan a mexicanos y chinos el cumplimiento de la legislación del otro, así como de las “reglas no escritas” necesarias para hacer negocios. Finalmente, conceptos erróneos impiden a las empresas de ambos países visualizar el espectro completo de oportunidades de negocio en los mercados de cada país.

En mi próximo post, echaré un vistazo más a detalle a la situación actual de la relación económica entre México y China.


Adrián es fundador/Director Gral. de Chevaya (驰亚), empresa de servicios de internacionalización en Asia-Pacífico. Con experiencia práctica y teórica en China, Adrián es Doctor en Derecho por la Universidad Jiaotong de Shanghái y Maestro en Derecho Internacional y Chino por la Universidad de Wuhan, siendo el primer mexicano en obtener estos grados en China

China Joint VenturesAn old saying about lawyers is that we do well when the economy is rising and when the economy is falling and we do especially well when big changes are expected. Flat and steady we don’t like. The same holds true for China lawyers.

Well our China lawyers have lately been working nearly around the clock on forming WFOEs and working on Joint Ventures for American and European companies that want to set up a business in China, oftentimes because they see doing so as providing them cover should a trade war ensue. They are of the view that having a China business will make them less susceptible to duties and tariffs and blockages. We are seeing the same thing with Chinese companies seeking to enter the United States and Europe, either on their own or by buying American or European companies.

Today’s post focuses on China Joint Ventures for the simple reason we have not written on joint ventures since July of 2016, and that post mostly focused on how distributer contracts can be a great alternative. As part of our return to joint ventures, we will focus on the basics with this point.

As we so often point out, China joint ventures are notorious for their high failure rate. An old Chinese saying often applied to joint ventures is “same bed, different dreams.” This Chinese saying (同床异梦) actually predates joint ventures and it applies to any sort of partnership without a meeting of the minds. American companies and Chinese companies far too often rush into joint ventures without ever discussing their respective dreams. The sooner you seek to discern whether you and your potential China joint venture partner share the same dreams, the sooner you will know whether to keep spending time and money in trying to do the joint venture deal, or simply walk away.

So towards that end, we compiled a list of questions for our clients to discuss with their potential Chinese joint venture partner to help determine whether there is enough commonality to move forward in trying to enter into the joint venture deal.

  • What are you seeking to accomplish with our joint venture?
  • What will you do for, and with, the joint venture?
  • What will your company do to advance the business of the joint venture and what exactly do you want our company to do to advance the business of the joint venture?
  • Who will make business decisions for the joint venture, and what mechanisms will we use for reaching a decision? Who will control what? Who will make what decisions? The more specific you get here, the better.
  • What will we each contribute to the joint venture? Property? Technology? Intellectual property? Money? Know-how? Employees?
  • If the joint venture loses money, who will be responsible for putting more money in?
  • How will we resolve disputes? Chinese companies love responding to this with something along the lines of “we will work out any issues among ourselves and if that fails, we will have a special meeting to try to resolve everything. That sort of answer is essentially meaningless. The answer you want is the one that explains exactly how day to day disputes will be resolved so the joint venture does not collapse?
  • Can either of us use confidential JV information for our own business? Can our own businesses compete with the JV? Can our own businesses do business with the JV?
  • How and when will the joint venture end? What if one of us wants to buy the other one out?

Posing these questions puts dreams to the test. For the better.

For more on China joint ventures, check out Joint Venture Jeopardy and Avoiding Mistakes in China Joint Ventures.

China cybersecurity lawsThe PRC government promulgated its Cybersecurity Law on November 7, 2016, with an effective date of June 1, 2017. To say that foreign tech firms are concerned about the impact of this new law on their business in China would be an understatement. In addition to tech firms, our China lawyers have received a steady stream of questions from clients with China WFOEs who are concerned about an entirely different set of issues. Article 35 of the law states that “personal information and other important data gathered or produced by critical information infrastructure network operators during operations within the mainland territory of the People’s Republic of China, shall store it within mainland China.” Our clients keep asking what this will mean for them.

The surprising answer is not much.

Any company that operates a WFOE in China collects personal information about its employees. China’s new cybersecurity law defines personal information as “all kinds of information, recorded electronically or through other means, that taken alone or together with other information, is sufficient to identify a natural person’s identity, including, but not limited to, natural persons’ full names, birth dates, identification numbers, personal biometric information, addresses, telephone numbers, and so forth.” Certainly, the standard information any company maintains on its employees will qualify as personal information under China’s new cybersecurity law.

In the EU and various other jurisdictions, such personal information must be maintained within the jurisdiction and there should be no transfer of such information across borders. This causes many problems for companies that seek to manage an international workforce through a central location.

So what clients keep asking our China attorneys is whether China’s new cybersecurity laws will establish the same sort of protective system within China? The simple answer is that it will not. China does not have a comprehensive law or regulations relating to the collection, processing or transfer of employee data gathered by a WFOE or other business entity in the normal course of its China business operations and China’s new cybersecurity law does not change that situation.

The cybersecurity law specifically provides that its personal data maintenance and collection rules apply only to critical infrastructure network operators. Network operator is defined as “network owners, managers and network service providers.” In more general terms, this means telecom operators and Internet ISPs. The requirements do not apply to the China business operations of normal private businesses with respect to their normal record keeping requirements for their employees.

Even though nothing has legally changed in China, it is still best practice for foreign companies employers in China to follow the basic rules the PRC government imposes more generally in the consumer context on the collection and maintenance of personal information, including the following:

1. Be sure the disclosing party (your employee) is aware that the company maintains personal information. The company should have a written policy (in Chinese and in English) on how long that information is maintained and that policy should be revealed to the employee.

2. You should not collect more personal information than necessary.

3. You should maintain the confidentiality of the personal information you collect and maintain. That means you should limit internal access to that information and you should take proper security measures to prevent a data breach of the company’s online systems.

4. You should not sell or otherwise transfer the personal information to any third party. Stated more bluntly, do not sell employee personal information to marketers or spammers.

Doing business in China.
Doing business in China: relax, you have choices

CNBC recently quoted me in a fascinating article entitled, More and more American companies have decided their big China opportunity is over. The article is by Evelyn Cheng, who consistently writes excellent pieces on China.

The article starts out by noting how China may no longer be “the world’s biggest business opportunity” for American companies. It then cites McDonald’s being in talks to “sell its China unit and license its name to a Chinese company instead, following Yum Brands’ decision to do something similar.” It then (100% accurately) quotes me saying the following:

“The trend is that opening retail business on the ground in China as a foreigner is difficult and expensive,” said Dan Harris, lawyer at Harris Bricken and author of the China Law Blog.

We have for years tried to push a lot of our clients not to do that, but instead do what McDonald’s and Yum Brands are doing, which is … monetize your name and your knowledge without actually being the one who does all the work to make it work in China,” Harris said. “China is a tough, tough market.”

All true.

Except, and just to be clear, the China lawyers at my law firm do not believe there is a one-size-fits all solution for going into China in the retail industry, or in any industry for that matter. And — again, just to be clear — I would not in a million years claim to know better what is right for McDonalds or for Yum Brands in China, as I am quite certain both of those companies know 1000 times better than I do what is right for them.

So, yeah, not going into China with 5-200 retail outlets makes a lot of sense a lot of the time, but a lot of the time it does not. Yeah, our China attorneys oftentimes try to steer (or “push”) some of our retail clients to get away from the idea that the only way for them to make money from China is to set up their stores in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Suzhou, just as they have done in Palmdale, Portland or Peoria. Our goal (indeed our job) as China attorneys is to explain the various options to our clients and to give them the pros and cons of each. The key thing we want them to know is that they have choices and that they should analyze their choices and not just do what some similar company down the street from them did two years ago in China, nor even necessarily what their China consultant is telling them to do.

So let’s talk about some of the options for a Western retail company that is looking to profit from China by doing business in China, and the pros and cons of each.

  1. Go into China Full-On as a WFOE. Under this scenario, the Western company forms a WFOE in China (for all that entails, check out How to Form a WFOE in China). The benefits of doing this are that you are in full control of your China operations because you 100% own your China operations and you can operate them as a subsidiary of your US or your European operations. This way of going into China makes sense if 1) you cannot — for whatever reason — relinquish control of your stores or your product to another company or 2) you eventually want to franchise your stores in China as China requires that you first own your own stores there before you can franchise them out. The negatives are that setting up a WFOE is time consuming and expensive. See Forming a China WFOE: The Method and the Madness. And going all into China as a WFOE in the retail sector can be particularly difficult because your WFOE in Shanghai does not entitle you to just start doing business in Shenzhen. No, to get into Shenzhen, you typically will need to set up a new WFOE or a branch office there, and then figure out all of the issues that come with that, including even whether. Is your company truly ready to navigate China? I cannot urge you enough to read this post from 2012: Are You China Ready, which details a speech on this topic given by Ben Shobert.
  2. Go into China as Part of a Joint Venture. The big plusses of China joint ventures are that you typically share in the costs with another company and you have a Chinese company as your partner in China. For the big negatives, of which there are many, check out China Joint Ventures: The Tide is Out.
  3. Go into China Via a Distributor Relationship. A great thing about distribution relationships in China is that you have a lot of flexibility in how you structure that relationship. See China Distribution Agreements in Real Life. You can give your China distributer exclusive rights for all of China, or for just one city, or no exclusivity at all. You can set all sorts of sales requirements for your China distributor, ranging from sales amounts to exactly how your product will be placed on store shelves. But better than this is that you can usually get your retail products into China cheaply and quickly via a distributor. The downside of this is that by sharing the risks with your distributor, you will also need to share in the profits.
  4. Go into China Via a Licensing Agreement. Under a licensing agreement, you can license your product name and other attributes to a Chinese company, and you can even add in many of the same requirements you might put into your distribution contract. The upsides and the downsides of a licensing agreement are very similar to those of a distribution contract. For more on China licensing agreements, check out China Licensing Agreements: The Extreme Basics and Fear The China Joint Venture And Front-Load Your China Licensing Agreements.

Bottom Line: The one right way to start doing business in China is to work on figuring out the best way for you and your company.

China attorneysIn China to Charge Three Australian Crown Resorts Executives The Wall Street Journal (Wayne Ma) reports that Chinese authorities will be pursuing criminal charges against at least three employees of Crown Resorts Ltd., an Australian gambling company. The article states that three Australians — among 18 people initially detained last month — remained in custody in Shanghai and …. [that one] of the Australians detained was Jason O’Connor, vice president of Crown Resorts’ international VIP operations. The status of the other 15 taken into custody is not clear.

As noted in the article by Peter Humphrey, who himself served time in a Chinese prison for alleged violations involving corporate investigations, “after someone has been charged, ‘the chances of getting them out have diminished by several times,’ said Mr. Humphrey, who maintains his innocence. ‘Whoever laid these charges now has a political stake in making them stick,’ he added.”

The kicker in all this actually comes from a quote by co-blogger Steve Dickinson in this Bloomberg article:

“In the old days, people would insist to me that the only risk was deportation. This is no longer the case,” said Steve Dickinson, a lawyer at Seattle-based Harris Bricken, which produces the China Law Blog and has advised companies in the gaming sector. “Foreigners can expect to be treated exactly like Chinese nationals.”

And here’s the thing about the Crown case: the Chinese government had for some time been signaling its intentions:

Under Chinese law, casinos aren’t allowed to promote gambling in China. Organizing a group of more than 10 Chinese nationals to go to casinos overseas also is a crime.

Overseas casino operators sidestep that ban by marketing only their hotels and entertainment in public promotions.

The detainments appeared to be foreshadowed last year in comments made by Hua Jingfeng, deputy chief of China’s Ministry of Public Security.

Mr. Hua told reporters that his department was investigating a “series of cases” involving foreign casinos in China.

“Overseas, a few countries are treating our country as a big marketplace,” Mr. Hua said, adding that he was aware overseas operators were establishing offices in China with the goal of luring citizens abroad to gamble.

Eight months later, Chinese authorities arrested more than a dozen South Korean casino managers and a number of local agents allegedly for the practice.

Why should you not look away from this post if you are doing business in China? Because it is vitally important to you and to your company that you understand that China will arrest and imprison foreigners and that it has only become increasingly willing to do so.

In a post we wrote back in 2014, China’s Anti-Corruption Drive. What Next? we mused about China’s then nascent anti-corruption drive what it all might mean, and we noted the following:

  • China is serious about corruption and it is starting with the pharmaceutical industry because corruption is so entrenched there. China is going after both domestic and foreign companies, but we are just hearing more about the foreign companies. This is just part of China’s desire to reduce corruption because the Chinese people are really sick of it.
  • Nobody really knows where and when the Chinese government will strike next when it comes to corruption. We all just know that it is striking a lot more often than it used to and striking against a much more varied list of companies (the smaller foreign companies that have gotten hit have for the most part managed to stay out of the news).
  • If you are a foreign company doing business in China in an industry the government deems important or politically sensitive, you should be extra worried/cautious.

And here’s the latest rumor we are getting: China is going to start criminally pursuing those who earn income in China with  independent contractors in China and no company in China and who pay no employer or income taxes in China. For what this situation looks like, please check out my Forbes article, China’s Tax Authorities Want You (written before we started hearing of criminal implications).

So whatever you do, please don’t look away. Better yet, have a full-on audit done of your company to ensure there is nothing lurking there.

For more on the Crown Resorts case and the lessons to be learned from it for anyone doing business in China, check out Doing Something China Doesn’t Like? Don’t Go There and How To Avoid Getting “Detained” in China and Why Your Odds are Worse than you Think.