I spoke at a seminar last week in Chicago on what companies that source their products from China need to be doing to avoid litigation. Number one on my list was to “choose a good Chinese partner.”  I went on to say that the odds of having problems with a legitimate Chinese company are a lot lower when you deal with a “legitimate” Chinese company. I then talked of how legitimate Chinese companies do not like getting sued and will usually work to avoid that.

Needless to say, an attorney button-holed me to ask the next logical question: “how do you distinguish between a Chinese company that is legitimate and one that is not?”

My answer was along the following lines:

  • The first thing you do is ask the Chinese company to send you a copy of its business license. Do not be afraid to do this. Chinese companies do this all the time. If the Chinese company refuses to send this to you, walk away.
  • You then need to have someone fluent in Chinese and with knowledge about Chinese business licenses examine the one that you have been sent. Our China attorneys typically look at these for the following:
    • To determine whether it is real or fake. We do this by comparing the information on the business license provided to us with the corresponding information on the relevant Chinese government website — typically the local SAIC — State Administration for Industry and Commerce). If the business license you have been provided is fake, you walk away.
    • To see when the company was formed. We like to compare what the real business license says against both what we were told (by email or whatever) and also what the Chinese company says on both its English language and its Chinese language website. If there are different years given in different places, we get suspicious and we ask more questions.
    • To see where the company is located. We like to compare this too against both what we were told (by email or whatever) and also what the Chinese company says on both its English language and its Chinese language website. If there are different addresses given in different places, we get suspicious and we ask more questions.
    • To see what the scope of the Chinese business is, as listed on its registration. If the scope is “consulting” and our client thinks it will be ordering ten million dollars worth of widgets from a factory, we get really suspicious. Looking at the scope is a good (though not always fool-proof) way to determine whether you are dealing with a manufacturer or a broker.
    • To see the amount of registered capital. If the amount is too low, the odds are good that it is not a manufacturer. If the amount is really high, the odds are good that this is a big company.

Doing the above is not nearly enough due diligenc for big deals, but it is a fast, relatively cheap way to get a much better sense about a Chinese company. Just the above is not going to be enough to guarantee a good long-term relationship, but it oftentimes is enough to let you know that you do not even want to attempt a short-term one.

For more on China due diligence, check out the following: