My friend and fellow lawyer Stan Abrams just did a thought provoking post, entitled, Comparative Red Tape: China vs. U.S. To grossly oversimplify it, its thesis can be summed up as follows:

I suppose my major point here, that the U.S. and China governments are different, is painfully obvious.

But it really is a more complex than that.

The post starts out citing an article that quotes someone saying that it is easier to get help from a China bureaucrat than from an American one. When I saw that, I immediately got irritated, because though true, there are all sorts of reasons why this is the case, and most of those reasons in no way reflect badly on American bureaucrats.

Stan then compares California to China and notes how much faster and easier it is to register a company in California than in China. One can form a U.S. company in less than an hour, whereas forming a China WFOE typically takes months.

Where I really see the difference between California and China bureaucracies is the different role government plays between the two countries (yes, I know California is a state and not a country, but work with me here people). China’s bureaucrats are tasked with increasing investment, foreign or otherwise, and their pay/bonuses can reflect how well they do that. American bureaucrats are mostly tasked with staying out of the way of incoming business.

One way I can explain the difference is the way we lawyers deal with a Chinese bureaucrat versus a US bureaucrat, and the differing expectations we have of them. Let’s take employment law as an example. One of our China lawyers, Grace Yang, has been writing extensively on here regarding China employment law, including the following just this month:

Without going back and checking these posts or checking in with Grace, I can still state with confidence that she spoke with Chinese government officials regarding all of the issues in the blog posts above. I know this because she dealt with all of these issues for real clients and before we report back to our clients on labor law issues we pretty much always those issues with the local labor department in addition to reviewing the written laws.

Chinese bureaucrats are pretty much uniformly willing to tell you how their agency handles particular matters and they will do so without your having to reveal the name of your client. The bureaucrats simply view helping clarify Chinese law as part of their job. This is generally a good thing.

The opposite is the case in the United States. If you go to a US court clerk’s office, you will probably see a sign making clear that the clerk is not able to give any legal advice. I am not aware of other government agencies in the U.S. with similar signs, but the sentiment is for the most part the same: if you don’t know the answer, hire your own lawyer and figure it out, our job is not to figure out anything for you. Businesses get help from private sources, not the government. Citizens should not be subsidizing businesses.  This is not necessarily a bad thing; it is the American ethos.

Where you really see the difference between the US and China is in foreign investment, which is the focus of Stan’s post. Chinese companies come to the US expecting trade agencies to help with all sorts of legal matters, but they virtually never do. On the flip side, when we tell our clients that we will be sending one of our China lawyers to talk with someone at a government office regarding a law or a problem, our clients sometimes become concerned that we might be doing something illegal. We explain that what we are doing is not only perfectly legal, it is normal for China and not to do so would be bad lawyering.

What have you seen out there?

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Dan Harris

I am a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

I mostly represent companies doing business in emerging market countries. It has taken me many years to build my network and it takes constant communication and travel to maintain it. My work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

I was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, I am AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), I am rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (its highest rating), and I am a SuperLawyer.

I am a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and I constantly travel between the United States and Asia. I most commonly speak on China law issues and I am the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog (www.chinalawblog.com). Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed me regarding various aspects of my international law practice.

I am licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at my firm, I focus on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.