A lot is happening these days in and with China and around the world. Obviously.
Earlier this year, much of our legal work centered around helping our clients deal with the US-China trade war. That truly feels like ages ago, as today, — working remotely — our international lawyers have been consumed with helping companies (and NGOs and even countries) figure out how best to source PPE and coronavirus testing products. In addition to this PPE sourcing, a huge part of our practice is now focused on helping companies deal with the myriad of legal issues that have arisen from the coronavirus. For more on this, please check out our coronavirus law page.
The coronavirus is making people sick and killing people. It also is disrupting company plans and actions. Our social media pages reflect all this, oftentimes with a much stronger and more controversial viewpoint than on here where we are at constant risk of the great firewall. On social media you will see a lot more controversy and a lot more individualism as between our various lawyer-writers. There we can let loose and fully express ourselves, and we do.
It is also on social media where we get the most heat. It is there that we are constantly accused of hating China AND being China apologists. Truth is that we both love and hate China — not so different how we feel about the rest of the world as well. We all have spent huge chunks of our lives in China and working to smooth relations between China and the rest of the world. It is from this where we have come to love China.
But we are above all else lawyers trained to analyze things objectively and to advocate for our clients. And we have also been trained to give our clients the truth as best we can and then work with them in using that truth to plan and enact their next moves. This requires we not be emotional or loyal to any one side of anything before we have completed our research. This requires we sometimes defend China and at other times we be harshly critical of it.
Things are tough with China right now as huge swaths of the world are either mad at China for having suppressed news about the coronavirus, rather than suppressing the virus itself. Way back in October, 2018, in Would the Last Company Manufacturing in China Please Turn Off the Lights, we started emphatically telling people how China had become riskier and why they should be looking at other countries to make their products. This angered many. We had been beating that drum on social media before that and we have been beating it ever since. See e.g., our June, 2019 piece, Has Sourcing Product From China Become TOO Risky?
Without a doubt, the two biggest issues most companies that do business in or with China are facing these days is whether to stay or go and/or whether to continue having their products manufactured in China or diversify production elsewhere.
Increasing exclusions and harassment of foreigners is influencing these decisions and every day we get emails from foreigners who tell us they are leaving China for this reason. See “They see my blue eyes then jump back”– China sees a new wave of xenophobia. Many of our clients are “splitting the difference” by setting up and/or growing their businesses in China, but doing it more than ever with trusted locals instead of expats. China has literally banned the entrance of all foreigners so for the immediate future, foreign companies have no choice in this. In the last year the number of WFOE formations our lawyers have done is down at least 50%. But the number of deals where our client licenses its technology or brand name to China have more than doubled.
On the manufacturing front, the big issue is diversification. China’s factories going dark during the peak of the coronavirus have convinced foreign companies that manufacture exclusively in China that they must diversify.
But the coronavirus will eventually dissipate and that will create new opportunities for companies looking to do business in China or grow their business in China. And on that, we remain optimistic. Once the world truly gets past the coronavirus — and that day will someday arrive, the CCP will very likely make efforts to tamp down on racism, just as it did so successfully earlier in this decade with respect to the Japanese, French, Norwegians, and South Koreans.
In an effort to remain visible to our many readers in China, we are careful about what we write here on the blog. There are words we avoid using and topics we avoid discussing on this blog because we want our reach to include China and if China does not like something, its government has this “magical” ability to make it go away. And there is a lot China does not like these days. Facebook and Linkedin and Twitter give us a much greater ability to speak freely. The below is a quick update and listing of what we are doing these days outside this blog.
Linkedin. We have a thriving China Law Blog Group on Linkedin that serves as spam-free forum for China information, networking, and discussion. This group is always growing and now totals nearly 13,000 members.
The members of our Linkedin group are fairly evenly split between those who live and work and do business in China and those who do business with China from the United States, Australia, Canada, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and other countries in Asia. Some are international lawyers and some are China lawyers, but most are businesspeople and some are academics (students or professors). We have senior level personnel (attorneys and executives) from large, medium, and small companies and tons of mid-level and junior personnel as well.
What truly separates us from most (all?) of the other Linkedin China groups is that we remove anything that smacks of spam or is not relevant for those doing business with or in China. Our hewing to such a tight line on what we permit means we do not get a large volume of postings, but this also means we do not waste people’s time on drivel or business pitches. If you want to learn more about doing business in China or with China, if you want to discuss China law or business, or if you want to network with others doing China law or business, I urge you to and join our China Law Blog Group on Linkedin. Please do join us there.
Individually, many of us post often on Linkedin about China matters and we are also always accessible there. You can find our China lawyers and China trade specialists on Linkedin as follows, some of whom post there more than others:
My personal Linkedin page has more than 10,000 followers and that has led me to post more often there on all things China. I welcome new followers and new connections, though I warn you that I tend to be slow in responding to connection requests. I promise not to overwhelm you with posts: I post roughly 3-5 times a week.
Facebook. Our China Law Blog Facebook page, is thriving as well with just under 25,000 followers (this is its number of “likes”). We use Facebook to post interesting, important and entertaining articles about China. Posts there get a lot of comments and discussion, often heated. We tend to be very open and opinionated and free-wheeling there. With so much going on with China and Hong Kong these days, our Facebook page has become a key source. I urge you to go there and “like” us so you can benefit from what we are doing there.
I am also now posting a fair amount on Twitter at @danharris. I left Twitter for many years but I am now happy to be back as I enjoy the sheer immediacy of it. I most definitely do not hold back there but I also post on non-China things from time to time. I also urge you to check out and follow Fred Rocafort from my firm as well, (@RocafortFred). Until recently, Fred was living in Hong Kong/the PRC and his tweets (oftentimes in both English and Spanish) do a great job of bridging the various gaps between HK, the PRC and the West. In addition to posting on China and Hong Kong, Fred also often posts about Latin America. Jonathan Bench (@jonathan_bench), who spent around five years living in China and now splits his time between Seattle and Salt Lake City, is also a frequent poster on Twitter about all things China and all things international business and I urge you to follow him too. We also have a China Law Blog feed, @chinalawblog and it would be great if you were to follow that too.
We also JUST YESTERDAY started a new Twitter account in Spanish (@HarrisBrickenES, a/k/a Harris Bricken en Español). That account will be mostly run by Fred Rocafort and Adrián Cisneros Aguilar and Arlo Kipfer. Fred is based in the United States, Adrián is based in Mexico, and Arlo is based in Colombia and all three of them are fluent in Chinese, Spanish, and English and all three work with our clients moving production or investment from China to Latin America or to Spain, both for Chinese and for American/European/Asian companies.
Fred, along with Jonathan Bench also just wrapped up Episode 24 of their weekly Global Law and Business Podcast focused on doing business all around the world and the laws that impact that. They’ve already had guests from India, Mexico, Israel, Nigeria, China, Australia, Chile, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Uruguay, Belgium, Malaysia, Brazil, and Puerto Rico discussing their homelands and worldwide experts discussing Cyberwarfare, Global HR, Cannabis in Asia, Infrastructure Finance, International School Law, Iran, Public-Private Partnerships, Artificial Intelligence, and East Africa. I urge you to check out some or all of these podcasts and be sure to stay tuned to future podcasts as well.
In the meantime, we look forward to continuing to discuss China and the world with you online!