Anthony Bourdain in China
Anthony Bourdain in China. From CNN

The one thing I know for sure about China is, I will never know China. It’s too big, too old, too diverse, too deep. There’s simply not enough time.

– Anthony Bourdain, On Parts Unknown

 

First Kate Spade and now Anthony Bourdain. What the hell is happening? How incredibly sad.

Before I write more I feel compelled to post this from CNN:

Suicide is a growing problem in the United States. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a survey Thursday showing suicide rates increased by 25% across the United States over nearly two decades ending in 2016. Twenty-five states experienced a rise in suicides by more than 30%, the government report finds.
How to get help: In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The International Association for Suicide Prevention and Befrienders Worldwide also can provide contact information for crisis centers around the world.
As I am not qualified to say more I will — as a huge Bourdain fan — simply repost one of our most controversial, most complained about and yet (in my view) one of our best posts. It is from ten years ago and it is provocatively titled, F-ck China Culture Lessons. Give Me Anthony Bourdain With No Reservations.

 

The best way to strengthen a guanxi network is to stay connected.

Send small gifts or ask for small favors to keep a relationship active.

Host an occasional get-together.

Remember the major Chinese holidays and send greetings.

Get to know your colleagues’ outside interests and find ways to support them, like getting tickets to a sporting event or concert.

From “China’s Changing Culture and Etiquette

Whatever.

I love watching the TV show, No Reservations. The show involves Anthony Bourdain (of Kitchen Confidential fame) touring a country and sampling its restaurants and foods. Despite constant (at the beginning and at every commercial) warnings of adult content (there is usually massive swearing, drinking, and smoking), I always watch it with my ten-year-old daughter because I know of no better or more interesting way to learn about foreign cultures. Every show leads her to ask a torrent of questions, with none on swearing, drinking or smoking.

Bourdain defines bon vivant (see the eating, swearing, drinking and smoking above). This is a guy who clearly loves to travel, loves meeting people of other cultures, and loves eating exotic foods. I have always divided Americans into those who think going to London constitutes stretching themselves and those who want to go somewhere where almost nothing is at all familiar. Bourdain neatly fits into the second category. Most importantly, he is a likable guy whose likability and bon vivantness (I was a French major so I know I am making up this word) crosses cultural divides.

His recent episode in Laos was amazing and led me to proclaim that one can learn more about how to act in China (or anywhere else) from a one-hour No Reservations episode than from anything else. Watch it. The key takeaway from Bourdain is that if you truly seek to enjoy and respect the people (and food) around you, truly want to learn more, truly seek to participate in the culture and food and customs of a people, and do so with spirit, you will be fine. The word truly is important because people everywhere appreciate sincerity and effort and can instinctively sense phoniness.

For more on how to get along in China, check out the following:

So watch No Reservations and the next time you find yourself in a lesson on Chinese etiquette/culture designed to make you acceptable to “the Chinese,” ask yourself who you think most likely to have a real network (note how I did NOT use the word guanxi here) in China, your instructor or Bourdain.

Update: Got to see Bourdain live and he was great. If he comes to your town, don’t miss it. [Obviously and sadly, not possible now]

 

May he rest in peace.

Doing Business in Myanmar Burma

Robert Walsh, sometime Seattle resident and long-time friend of our law firm (we worked on a number of China deals together and we — Dan and Steve — met up with him on our last trip to Myanmar), has spent the last four years in Myanmar, where he operates a vibrant business consultancy. Robert is fluent in Chinese and Korean and, amazingly enough, Burmese (multiple dialects), having learned Burmese while working in the U.S. Embassy in Yangon many years ago.

Robert has been sending us email updates from Myanmar for some time and we post some of them on here. Back in 2014, it was Myanmar: Open For Business? and in 2013, it was Myanmar Foreign Investment. Difficult And Expensive, But Opportunities Are There. In our 2013 post I mentioned that my law firm had “been involved in a few Myanmar matters, but truth be told, Myanmar is a difficult place in which to do business and many of the companies going there are bigger companies mostly looking to get in now and make money later. In the last year.” Since that time, our Myanmar work has actually shrunk as interest in Myanmar by SMEs has greatly waned and their non-China Asia focus these days seems to be more on Thailand and Vietnam. Early last year, in A Report from Myanmar from an old China Hand I talked about how much had changed, due in large measure to the relaxation of sanctions.

Today’s post is on how optimism is waning as things just keep getting worse.

1. The electricity situation here is going to get worse before it gets better.

a. Foreign oil & gas companies are pulling out of their offshore blocks en masse. They had a requirement to drill or walk away, and they are walking away. Low gas prices drive part of it, but also the royalties schemes with the Burmese government are the other part. Prevailing wisdom is that they will return later when the blocks go up for bid again, and offer a lot less and drive a harder bargain with the Burmese government.

b. Several of the schemes for producing more electricity have hinged on gas coming in from offshore. The 2 gas turbine plants running are getting their gas for free from the government, from the Yadanar fields that have been in production since the 90’s.  But production is dropping in quantity and quality and Thai TPP has first call on it. 

c. The government has given a green light for companies to do LNG, but the only credible one is led by Total. We have already been approached by one group of unqualified Burmese rent seekers who have had a gas turbine project on the back burner for more than 4 years, who now say that they want to add a LNG gasification plant.  They are offering nothing more than a 60-acre parcel that they don’t seem to own yet, but want 20% equity in the thing.

d. Coal is what the IFC and world bank are pushing the government, but there is a lot of grassroots-level pushback. A lot of communities have suffered pollution from coal-burning cement plants, and there is concern for waterways as well. Still, a so-called “clean coal” plant would be 5-7 years in the making, and would also require importing all the coal, as there is no source of suitable coal in the entire country.  

e. All of this, and electricity demand is growing 15-20% year-on-year.  The government still subsidizes costs of electricity and consumers pay very little of the costs of delivery. Last year the costs of subsidies were north of $900 million, with $358 million of that for Rangoon Division alone.  The government will not grant a power purchase agreement (PPA) to any foreign or domestic provider that covers CAPEX and running costs, let alone allow for a decent return, so private power providers are staying away. Raising rates for the consumer to the point where costs of delivery are covered is regarded as political suicide.

f. With the above in mind, consensus is that it may be as late as 2025 before we see something positive in the electricity sector.


2. Politics in general. 

a. The consensus is that Burma’s political reforms plateaued more than a year ago and are in fact in a gentle backslide. Readers will note that National League for Democracy head Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) has been stripped of a few honors, and is in fact held in some mild disdain by many outside the country. 

b. In her defense, the military still holds control of the key ministries of defense, home affairs, and borders.nationalities. I can tell you from long and painful experience that out in the provinces it’s still 1965, as all of the authorities at the state, district, township, all the way to the village level are still appointed by the military-led home affairs ministry. 

c. On the other hand, ASSK has been decidedly unwilling to weigh in on the racial strife in Rakhine state, and her attitude towards the various ethnic armed groups is pretty much “it’s my way or the highway”. As a result of her unwillingness to play a part the groups that have any combat power at all have taken to the field again. None want to sign the national ceasefire agreement until they get what they want. The only signatories to the agreement are groups that have not fired a shot in anger for decades. Still, some trouble has recently been brewing with signatories the Karen National Union, who are pissed at Burmese Army encroachment into territory that was agreed to be off-limits.



3. Everybody and his brother wants to build and operate special economic zones and industrial parks.

Here, there, and everywhere.  Even the Korean government Ministry of Land & Housing is doing a 600-acre park(KMIC/ Korean Myanmar Industrial Center) about 100 miles north of Rangoon, jointly with a Korean private company.

a. We cannot understand the drive for these parks, especially in areas where the roads and other infrastructure, -to say nothing of electrical power availability- are in general lacking.

b. A key thing, one I focus on whenever I talk to developers of these things is: “Which companies have already weighed in as tenants?”.  The answer is invariably “nobody yet”. 

c. A lot of the developers are either ignoring or worse yet, -ignorant- of certain facts about Burmese workers.  They are not highly mobile, like the hundreds of millions of Chinese who gravitate to Shenzhen and other Chinese megacities for work. My best guess is that 4/5th of these parks are sited in areas where labor is going to be a problem.

d. For the garment manufacturing sector, the lack of US GSP for textiles and garments has really slowed things up. Last week the government passed a daily minimum wage of MMK 4800 (USD $3.63), and the factory owners bitched a blue streak. 

4. When Trump tore up the TPP.
Many describe this action as “pressing pause on American plans for Asia”. Well, the Chinese have not pressed pause, but rather accelerated plans. Not too long after Trump’s inauguration ASSK spent time in Beijing getting initiated into resumption of Burma’s status as a Chinese client state.  

a. The Chinese are now everywhere in Burma, pursuing developments that are all rather land-intensive.  In addition to the Kyaukhpyu SEZ up on the NW coast, they are going after another 4-5 developments each over 5000 acres.  What they all have in common is a lack of focus on fundamentals.

b. For its part the Burmese government is overwhelmingly receptive to all of this, as the Chinese are looking at other big-ticket infrastructure things that no other donor government is looking at doing.

c. As an aside, the current Burmese government still does not issue sovereign debt. A lot of the ADB and other sovereign wealth fund loans have gone to private concerns like Yoma/FMI.

d. And of course the Chinese are in no way, shape, or form inclined to carp on Burma’s human rights situation.
e. I was on a 4-month project in Magway division last summer, and a cast o’1000’s of Sinopec people were all over Burma’s onshore oil patch doing seismic work. In another year parts of the division are likely to become a forest of drilling rigs.

5. FDI is flat, and declining.
But the Burmese do not seem to understand how to incentivize investment, because they are so bound to the cronies; they simply will not allow investment conditions that might conceivably afford a foreign company an advantage over locals. 

a. The only exception to the rule I can see is telecoms, with Ooredoo and Telenor getting licenses in early 2014. But those two companies were flummoxed to see the Japanese KDDI/Sumitomo step in and work with the legacy government MPT to revitalize what should have been a failing competitor. And more recently the Vietnamese Army VietTel paired with the Burmese Army UMEHL to form a 4th contender, MYTel/MecTel.  

b. Some sectors like mining still require foreign companies to take on local partners, most of whom offer little in the way of value. Still, in the border areas controlled by favored (and not-so-favored) ethnic armed groups, there’s not shortage of dirty smash & grab mining operations. Most are for gold, some for tin, others for antimony.

c. Oddly enough, the areas where completely level free market playing fields exist are the areas under government-granted autonomy to the various ethnic armed groups, e.g. DKBA, KNU, and the UWSA areas (as noted above).

d. As of a few weeks ago the US was waaaaaay down the DICA-published list of investment source countries. If you can get its website to kickstart itself, the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration is here.

e. Entertaining to read was the 2017 State IG report on AmEmbassy Rangoon. According to the IG report:

-There are now around 127 American direct hires assigned to the embassy, and an additional 388 or so as local hires/local nationals. I have no idea what they do all day. None whatsoever. Our prospects and prestige here have pretty much sunk that low; it’s possible that nobody in the Hitler’s Bunker-modeled embassy building knows this.

-The embassy has at least 71 leases for housing for which it pays at least $10.7 million a year. Just this number makes the embassy the single biggest American economic player in Burma. If all that is spent on office space for USAID and its contractors is figured in, we could be talking north of $100 million/year just for expatriate quality-of-life maintenance. Staggering. Naturally USAID’s contractors bill back all of that overhead, which is likely deducted from whatever was allocated for Burma aid. That would explain why I don’t see much evidence of USAID doing anything in the areas of Burma I work and know best.

-Puzzling is that the IG points out that 5 people in the embassy produce 5 different translated local media reports per day. I guess foreign service officers no longer read newspapers in the local language at the start of their work day. (The report does note that language training prior to assignment only enables our diplomats to engage in greetings and informal chit-chat) Go here for the whole thing.

6. We do indeed have an American Chamber of Commerce chapter here, but most members are local companies.
The chamber does not do a hell of a lot. The New Zealand and French chambers are very active and do a much better job of engagement. Still, American involvement in Burma’s economy is waaaaaaaay down the list, as reflected in the Myanmar Investment Committee’s monthly stats. China (of course), Korea, and Japan are the big hitters. In terms of American economic activity, Coca-Cola is the most visible.
a. We do have a Hard Rock Cafe now, started by a couple of Crony Princelings, but as they can’t seem to properly manage it, and are usually out of a lot of menu items, the place is not popular.
b. Other US brands here are Ford (RMA Group Thailand) and Chevy (AA Medical Group). Neither brand is exactly punching above its weight against used Toyota products and the Korean offerings. Nearly 2 million cars have gone on local roads since the last letter. The government is now wisely stipulating that cars coming in be less than 2 years old and be left-hand drive (the majority are Japanese used cars less than 7 years old, and right-hand drive).
-I bought the very first off the local assembly line Suzuki Super Carry Kei truck. The Japanese cleverly used the way-back machine to incorporate 1960’s design and technology which is dirt-simple and appropriate for Burmese countryside conditions. Electronic nothing, points and condenser, carburetor. $5700 delivered, with Rangoon city plates, vice triple that for a used truck from Japan.
 Burma Law Firm
c. Out in the sticks where I work, US farm machinery manufacturers have once again screwed the pooch by not sending in an “A Team”; they’d rather find a local dealer and half-assed support it. Kubota owns the market now, having figured out a way to offer financing to whole villages for a package of everything needed to plant and harvest rice. Older Burmese farmers have nostalgia for Ford and John Deere tractors, and every once in a while I run across the bones of one of these in out-of-the-way places.
-I had a major jade mining company looking for new heavy trucks; could not get any US maker on the plane to come for a meeting. That $57 million all-cash deal went to Komatsu. The buyer had been vetted for all sorts of US Treasury stuff, so that could not have been the problem.
d. As with China, we have KFC and Pizza Hut, franchised from YUM! by local moneybags Serge Pun’s FMI/Yoma. Both are popular but face stiff competition from Lotteria and other established local and foreign brands. FMI/Yoma spent awhile sorting out the supply chain, as YUM! actually has standards for what goes in their food.

7. Americans are leaving.
A few weeks ago we had American lawyer Eric Rose announce that he was throwing in the towel. He had been one of Burma’s biggest boosters, and carried a lot of water when it came to sanctions lifting. He will be missed.

As always, if any you should find yourself in Burma, I’d be more than happy to help.

Best China Blogs
Goodbye Peking Duck.

The Peking Duck blog officially closed today. I am not the sentimental type and to a great extent, everyone knew this day would soon arrive. But yet today is still a sad day.

The Peking Duck was at one time one of the two or three best and most honest blogs on China. Through that blog, I got to know its author Richard Burger and I am proud to think of him as a friend. Richard and I most certainly did not agree on many things (though there were many things on which we did agree), but I ALWAYS appreciated his blog posts because they were also so “real.” They were also always so very well written and so insightful. Richard always was and still is a class act.

When we first started our blog way back in January, 2006, and for a long time after that, no day would go by without our reading Peking Duck, as it (along with a few other blogs that are also no more (many of which Peking Duck lists in its farewell post) was the zeitgeist of China.

If you wanted to know China, you read Peking Duck. It was that simple

To give you some idea of how important we viewed the Peking Duck, I note that this is the 40th time we have cited to it in a blog post and that from 2006 to  2008, we cited to it 23 times, which I am guessing was more than any other publication. If we were having a tough time coming up with a good topic for the day, we knew we could pretty much always find something worthy of discussion on Peking Duck.

Richard never pulled a punch and yet he, like so many of us back in “those days,” was infused with optimism. Sorry, but it was a better time.

Not surprisingly, Peking Duck’s last paragraph nails it:

It was a thrilling ride. I used to love waking up to hundreds of new comments. It was a real community. But all good things must end, and I probably should have shut down the site a few years ago instead of allowing it to slowly die on the vine. Thanks so much for joining me here. I’ll miss all of those who contributed to The Peking Duck — the site was more about the participants here than it was about me. What a great experience it was. Thanks again.

It is with considerable sadness that I join the long line of people mourning the final demise of Peking Duck and wishing Richard all the best in his offline life.

It was indeed a “great experience.”

China complianceThe below post was written by Richard Bistrong, who recently returned from a long China trip where he met with all sorts of companies to assist them in their compliance efforts. Richard is CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC  and a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog (a truly great blog, BTW). In 2010 he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to violate the FCPA and served fourteen-and-a-half months at a U.S. federal prison camp. He now consults, writes and speaks about compliance issues. He was named to Compliance Week’s list of Top Minds in 2017 and was one of Ethisphere’s 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics in 2015. 

 

In today’s compliance environment, though we see a robust debate on what the new US administration might mean for anti-bribery compliance, the new ISO standard, and the recent DOJ “Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs” memo, those weren’t on anyone’s “what keeps me up at night” moments during my recent visits to  China. Yes, those are all meaningful topics for the field of practitioners, but from conversations at graceful Buddhist restaurants (with thanks to my hosts for indulging my vegan preferences) to live engagements and panels, much of the focus was on the “what happens when local customs conflict with the rules” dilemma. And that’s not to say that there’s an inherent conflict in China between ethical business practices and commercial success, but in an emerging market environment, with a young, dynamic and engaged workforce, the challenge is daunting, and not to be ignored.

The Importance of Defining Success. Compliance programs in China, like anywhere else, address the importance of lawful and ethical conduct, but during my visits, I saw a profound focus around “how to execute on both values and objectives,” in an environment where people are extremely focused on success, and the rewards of success. This desire to succeed manifests itself in a way that’s much different in an emerging economy than in a developed one. Employment with western based brands are coveted jobs, and commercial teams are anxious to demonstrate their ability to execute on financial objectives – in other words, to succeed. But that goal driven model often widens what’s a cultural and operational disconnect between the support functions at HQ and those forward based teams which are deployed in less supervised locales. And you can’t bridge those gaps with compliance paperwork and contracts.

Servant Leadership. One executive’s initiative was to call on mid-level leadership to be “servant leaders.” That really captured my attention, as he empowered his executive teams to push power down into the organization instead of up. As defined in The Center for Servant Leadership, a “servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.” Though traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. “The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.” Yet another reminder as to why it’s so exciting to be back in the field — these are the business practices that one can only learn via immersion, and you don’t get that from the home office.

As to some more of the challenges, yes, anti-corruption was a big part of it, but not the only part. In China, corruption can intersect a work-force in both directions, as bribe payers as well as receivers. Commercial personnel who are responsible for dealer, intermediary and distributor networks might be subjected to requests for bribes, passed through those third parties to government officials — a set-up that’s familiar. But in China, employees are also exposed to the receiving side of corruption, as dealers might want to curry favor for discounts, product allocations or marketing allowances through corrupt offers.

In an environment based on relationships and hierarchy, that’s a complexity that might be hard to appreciate unless you are in front of it. It’s much more than anti-corruption compliance; it’s about ethical conduct in a broader sense, on hours and off. And those offers don’t come, or they don’t start, with brown bags of cash or numbered off-shore accounts. A dealer offering his beach flat for a holiday weekend to an employee might seem innocent enough, until a situation arises where that dealer might need a special allowance or discount. It’s a peril that often hides under the radar of friendship and association.  It’s part of what’s called the “dangerous charm” of third parties. After all, who wants to say no to a friend?

That’s just part of how I engaged in a discussion where there was an appreciation and focus on how to develop a commercial workforce free of conflict of interest, and how to inspire commercial leaders to embrace their roles as brand ambassadors. And those efforts were backed up, including by my own experience, with a “you can’t hide bad conduct behind your third parties,” and “what you don’t know can hurt all of us.” We spent a lot of time sharing with the workforce how they have an obligation to know the values and integrity of the people they do business with, and not to switch their ethical radar “off” after the third-party vetting process. In China, with state investment and divestment in industry and commercial entities, risk can quickly change over the life of a relationship.

In sum, those are just a few of the elements to which I was honored to engage. Having spent the better part of ten years living and working overseas 250 days a year, this was my first visit to mainland China. It left me wanting more, to return, and to read more about China’s role in today’s global economy along with its internal struggles as to how that gets implemented. China is experiencing what I heard called the “new normal,” where the period of exponential growth is slowing down, creating yet new challenges for commercial teams to succeed in a tightening marketplace. It’s a fascinating place, I found it personally contagious, and felt privileged to play some role in how to engage and inspire China’s commercial and compliance leaders to work together as each other’s ambassadors.

INTA 2017 Spain IP lawyersIf you are going to be in Barcelona during INTA 2017, please let us know via an email to firm@harrisbricken.com and we will do our utmost to have one of our lawyers meet up with you there. Four of our lawyers will be there throughout the conference, including two of our lawyers from our Barcelona office, Nadja Vietz and Joaquin Cabrera. In addition to our home-grown talent, Mike Atkins (world famous for his Seattle Trademark Lawyer Blog) and Alison Malsbury (who spoke at INTA last year on cannabis trademarks) will also be attending. 

Please don’t tell anyone, but our having a Barcelona office means we know all the good places to go, including those that will not be overwhelmed by INTA hordes. 
 
As much as our China lawyers, including me, wanted to go to Barcelona for INTA in the end, work prevailed and we will all be in China or the United States for the duration.

国际商标协会2017年年会将于 5月20日-24日在西班牙巴塞罗那举行。我们衷心希望通过本次年会结识更多国际业界人士并建立友好关系。如果您也会去巴塞罗那参加此次年会,欢迎发送电子邮件到firm@harrisbricken.com 与我们联系, 我们会尽全力安排我们的律师和您在巴塞罗那见面。除了我们巴塞罗那办公室的两位律师Nadja VietzJoaquin Cabrera之外,西雅图总部的Mike AtkinsAlison Malsbury也会前往参会。Mike是拥有多年执业经验的西雅图商标律师,常年在著名的西雅图商标律师博客上发表商标法相关文章。另一位律师Alison 则在去年的国际商标协会年会上就大麻行业的商标法律问题发表演讲。

另外,我们的巴塞罗那同事熟知当地景点和文化,他们能告诉您本地人喜欢的去处,避开过于拥挤的热门旅游景点,帮助您了解巴塞罗那独特的魅力所在。

尽管我们的中国法律师(包括我自己)都非常希望前往巴塞罗那参与这次年会,但由于实在无法从工作中抽身,我们还会继续在美国和中国为您提供服务。

Sollten Sie an INTA 2017 in Barcelona teilnehmen, geben Sie uns bitte per E-Mail an firm@harrisbricken.com Bescheid und wir würden uns freuen, ein Meeting mit einem unserer Anwälte organisieren zu können. Vier unserer Anwälte sind während der Konferenz in Barcelona, einschliesslich unsere “spanischen” Anwälte aus unserem Barcelona Büro, Nadja Vietz und Joaquin Cabrera. Zusätzlich zu unserem Barcelona Team werden Mike Atkins (bekannt für seinen Seattle Trademark Lawyer Blog) und Alison Malsbury (welche bei INTA im vergangenen Jahr über Cannabis Branding vortrug) teilnehmen.
Bitte tragen Sie dies nicht weiter, aber da wir unser lokales Team haben, kennen wir auch all die Geheimtipps an sehenswerten Plätzen, welche nicht mit INTA Teilnehmern überfüllt sind.
So sehr unsere China-Anwälte, mich inbegriffen, an INTA hätten teilnehmen wollen, ging die Arbeit am Ende vor und wir werden nicht teilnehmen, sondern in China oder den USA sein.
Si va a estar en Barcelona durante INTA 2017, por favor háganoslo saber a través de un correo electrónico a la siguiente dirección: firm@harrisbricken.com y haremos todo lo posible para que uno de nuestros abogados se pueda reunir con Vd. Cuatro de nuestros abogados estarán en Barcelona a lo largo de la conferencia, entre ellos dos de nuestros abogados de nuestra oficina de Barcelona, Nadja Vietz y Joaquín Cabrera. Además de nuestro talento de Barcelona, asistirán también Mike Atkins (famoso por su Seattle Trademark Lawyer Blog) y Alison Malsbury (que habló en INTA el año pasado sobre marcas de cannabis).
Por favor, no se lo digas a nadie, pero nuestro tener una oficina en Barcelona significa que conocemos todos los buenos lugares para ir, incluyendo aquellos que no serán superpoblados con participantes de INTA.
Aunque nuestros abogados del departamento chino, incluido yo, quisiéramos ir a Barcelona para INTA, el trabajo prevaleció al final y todos estaremos en China o los Estados Unidos por la duración.

China licensing agreementChinese companies are seeking out technology wherever and however they can find it and our China lawyers have been writing a slew of China technology licensing agreements of late. Sometimes these deals come to us as China licensing deals, but other times, they come into our law firm as putative joint ventures, but after our China lawyers explain the difficulties and the costs involved in doing a joint venture our clients seek to restructure their relationship with their Chinese counter-party into a licensing arrangement.

We are big fans of China licensing deals because we have seen them be a financial stimulant for so many companies, including companies with admittedly outdated or “second tier” technology. China licensing deals can be win-win transactions because the Chinese companies and Chinese citizens get perfectly fine technologies (I presume) at a good price and the Western companies get a revenue source from a formerly moribund or nearly moribund technology.

The licensing deals our lawyers have been handling in the last year or so have mostly involved computer or industrial or medical technologies where the Chinese company wants to use the licensed technology to jump-start its own technology development. These Chinese companies initially plan to license the technology from our American or European clients as stepping-stone to building their own cheaper products in China and then later using that technology and the funds they receive from new product sales to further develop and refine (and perhaps even localize) the technology and their own products to compete better with Western companies on the high end. Sometimes though the deals are with a Chinese company that wants to put the technology to immediate use to improve on existing products they sell in China.

The below is a list of initial questions I pulled from an email (modified to eliminate anything that could possibly serve as an identifier to anyone) from one of our China IP lawyers to a client based on the licensing term sheet to which the client and the potential Chinese company licensee had signed off. The email posed some initial questions, the answers to which were necessary to allow this lawyer to being drafting the licensing agreement.

1. Territory:

a. For “China,” does this include Taiwan? Hong Kong?  Macao? These three jurisdictions all have an independent patent/trademark system. We do not use the term “China” in our agreements since it is not clear. We use the term PRC to refer only to Mainland China. Given the PRC’s aspirations, even that term is not perfectly clear. To which of these countries were you referring?

b. The term “Southeast Asia” has no precise meaning. Please identify the specific countries intended to be included. In particular, what is the status of Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and The Philippines?

2. Note with respect to Territory. There are a number of separate issues:

a. Place of manufacture.

b. Place where patents/trademarks must be maintained.

c. Place where sales are permitted.

The three are quite distinct and it will be important we be clear on all three. It seems to me you are proposing the following:

a. Territory of manufacture is the PRC.

b. Territory of patents is PRC, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong and Japan.

c. Territory of sales is PRC, Republic of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, Viet Nam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and The Philippines?

Please advise on whether the above is correct? If yes, this will require some complex drafting. But it is doable.

3. Your statement of the license grant is a typical U.S. grant, which includes the right to sublicense. We though generally advise against giving a Chinese licensee the ability to sublicense. What is you position on this?

4. For a manufacturing license, we prefer to see our clients limit the Chinese side to manufacturing only in China at a manufacturing facility you the licensor have approved in advance. Do you agree with this?

5. This agreement is for two products. How do you want to deal with the trademarks and logos for both of these products? Will the patent license also include the associated trademarks and logos? What is the current status of registration of those marks in the applicable territories? Your controlling the trademark is a powerful way for you to control the right to manufacture and sell the products and if you have not registered your trademarks in the PRC and in the other countries in which they will be sold by your licensee, you should consider such registrations in connection with this project. Let’s discuss this.

7. In your Performance Metrics section, you raise the important issue of the obligation of [Chinese company] to pursue approvals in the appropriate territories and to engage in selling the two products in those territories. Note, however, that this is extremely complex. To list out just some of the issues:

a. What is the obligation of [Chinese company] to apply for and receive approval with respect to each of the countries in which you will be granting it the licenses? What happens if [Chinese company] receives approval in the PRC, but does not even try to secure approval in the other territories. What happens if [Chinese company] receives approval for Korea but not for the PRC? How are you intending for this to all work?

b. Is the stated sales goal just for the PRC or for the entire sales territory? Have you considered separate sales goals for each country?

c. What is the penalty to [Chinese company] if it does not achieve the performance metric. For example, what if they don’t even try for Korea? We could draft it so that you can either terminate the entire license or simply remove Korea from the territory. If the sales goal is cumulative, then you would terminate the entire license. But if the sales goal is by country, then you would remove the country from the license.

d. The same applies to your company. I doubt you mean that you must pursue patents in all of the countries listed. Am I right about this? Either way, we must be clear about this. We could perhaps clarify all this by providing for three territories:

i. Manufacturing territory: PRC.

ii. Patent territory: PRC, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong and Japan.

iii. Sales territory: PRC, Republic of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, Viet Nam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Singapore and The Philippines.

That said, we need to keep these various territories clearly demarcated.

8. In the performance metrics, you properly make clear that actively pursuing approval for sale is required for the license and you provide a hard deadline for one product. But since there are two products and as many as 15 different countries, this could get impossibly complex. We will need to provide a manageable way to keep track of two separate issues: the approvals to sell and the actual sales, for each product and for each country. There are many ways to do this. The simple way is to set an overall gross sales goal, without any specification of country of sales. If the sales goal is met, that’s the end of it. Then you can provide that if no approval is obtained for a particular region by a particular time for a particular product, you have the right to remove that country from the sales territory for that product. It seems this approach will work best but I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

9. Buy Back Right. It seems the buy back right for manufacture should only apply if [Chinese company] meets all of its obligations under the license. Do you agree?

Please consider the above and provide me with your comments and questions.

 

For more on what goes into a China licensing contract, check out:

China Licensing Agreements: The Extreme Basics.

China Licensing Agreements: Giving Your Technology a New and Profitable Life

China Difficulties, Netflix, and Why We Love Licensing

Nine Tips for China Licensing

China Foreign PolicyForeign Policy Magazine just came out with an exceptionally clear-headed, exceptionally valuable article on the derivations/influences of China’s foreign policy, entitled (in part and when you see the full title you will probably understand why I shortened it) How China’s History Shapes its Policies Today.

I posted it on our China Law Blog Facebook page with the following lead-in:

Great article by some truly great people. Read it. Study it. This is the sort of article that could become seminal for understanding China foreign policy. Then read it again.

Not much more to say about it other than that if you have any interest at all in China foreign policy, in China’s place in the world, or even in China at all you need (yes need, not should) go read it. Now. Oh, okay, I cannot resist: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Your thoughts?

In the last week, from most recent to oldest, we wrote about the following:

1.  How Chinese companies steal your intellectual property.

2. How terminating your employees in China can come back and bite you.

3. How difficult it can be to figure out the capital requirements for your WFOE.

4. How complicated it can be drafting a China sales agency contract. This post not only started out with the following preamble: “With China getting more expensive and more difficult for foreign companies, and with many foreign companies choosing to leave China rather than risk getting caught for operating there illegally.”

5. How China companies will counterfeit your products.

6. How China is cracking down like never before on companies with “independent contractors” in China. This was I think our third or fourth post on this just this month as we just keep seeing the number of American companies getting caught for this increasing and the penalties become more onerous. We titled this article Doing Business in China with Deportation or Worse Hanging Over Your Head and we used the following picture with that post:

China WFOE lawyer

7. A Chinese Law Bibliography.

A psychologist would look at the above seven and quickly find that they all have one theme in common. China is a difficult, even dangerous place for foreign companies doing business there, seeking to do business there, or even doing business with Chinese companies. And your salvation comes from knowing and obeying the law and being able to use the law to your advantage. Hey, that’s what we do for a living: we are China attorneys and we help foreign companies gain an advantage over Chinese companies by using the law.

But I have to admit that this all can get a bit unrelenting and that there is more to life than gloom and doom. And hey, if you knew us, you would quickly learn that in real life we are some of the nicest most optimistic upbeat people  you could ever hope to meet. Truly.

And today I aim to show that with the following link to an amazing video on North Korea/South Korea relations by a true expert in the field. Now I could tell you that I am posting this video because the relations between North Korea and South Korea are in many ways a proxy for the relations between China and the United States, and then I could go on to discuss how the relations between these four countries might impact your business with China. But I won’t even try that. Instead, I will admit that I am posting this for one reason and one reason only. Because I found this to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Maybe it is because I have done many a TV (and radio) interview myself (too early in the morning or too late at night) in a room with the door closed and sometimes with one or both of my daughters making noise in the background, and always living in fear that one just might burst in while I am talking, as they so often used to do when I was on my cell phone talking to a client. Heck, at a certain age, they used to mimic me or try to get me to laugh while on those calls. So maybe I find the following video and article so incredibly funny simply because I can so relate to it. Be that as it may. No ulterior motives here. No China business scare tactics here. Just an attempt to get you to laugh and enjoy.

Watch the video first then read this article (please, please, please read the article, which analysis heightens the video and is almost as funny as the video itself) and then watch the video again. Then let us know what you think. I’m guessing many of you have already seen it, but enjoy it again; it does not get old.

Nobody panic, we will eventually return to our regularly scheduled programming. In the meantime though, have a great day. China attorneys

Myanmar Thailand VietnamRobert Walsh, sometime Seattle resident and long-time friend of our law firm (we worked on a number of China deals together and we — Dan and Steve — met up with him on our last trip to Myanmar), has spent the last four years in Myanmar, where he operates a vibrant business consultancy. Robert is fluent in Chinese and Korean and, amazingly enough, Burmese (multiple dialects), having learned Burmese while working in the U.S. Embassy in Yangon many years ago.

Robert has been sending us email updates from Myanmar for some time and we post some of them on here. Back in 2014, it was Myanmar: Open For Business? and in 2013, it was Myanmar Foreign Investment. Difficult And Expensive, But Opportunities Are There. In our 2013 post I mentioned that my law firm had “been involved in a few Myanmar matters, but truth be told, Myanmar is a difficult place in which to do business and many of the companies going there are bigger companies mostly looking to get in now and make money later. In the last year.” Since that time, our Myanmar work has actually shrunk as interest in Myanmar by SMEs has greatly waned and their non-China Asia focus these days seems to be more on Thailand and Vietnam.

It was nevertheless great to get a bolt out of the blue from Robert this week in the form of a brand new Myanmar update, set forth below.

 

4 years water is under the bridge since we opened up shop in Rangoon.

A bunch of things have changed:

-Sanctions were relaxed, then finally revoked in toto back in October of last year. Now any foreign company that desires to do so can work with any of the formerly blacklisted military crony companies, jade/gems barons, or groups associated with narcotics trafficking. We’re seeing indications that this is happening already.

-Millions more cars on the road, newer Japanese for the most part, but Korean cars have moved in as well, and offer financing. Ford and Chevy are here with local or regional partners; not selling a lot.

-Supply of electricity has gotten steadily better, but this was achieved by a series of band-aid solutions using quickly built gas turbine or heavy fuel oil facilities.

-More places to stay, more restaurants for rich white people. Prices for hotels and rents on apartments have eased up now that supply roughly equals or exceeds demand.

-The November 2015 elections went off without a hitch, with the National League for Democracy (NLD) taking the lion’s share of seats. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was not permitted to become president, but loopholes were found to allow her an equally powerful position. The finder of that set of loopholes, U Ko Ni, NLD’s senior lawyer, was gunned down outside the arrivals hall at Mingaladon airport last Sunday (January 29, 2017).

-The American Chamber of Commerce has a Myanmar chapter with over 100 members, but I’d say less than a dozen are really active. Sanctions or none, American business has not shown a tremendous interest in this place. Oil & Gas are here, but their presence and local footprint is no larger than it has to be to administer the constellation of service companies that follow in their wake. The only American manufacturer to date is Ball Corp, and they’re here just to make cans for Coke. Coke came in back in 2012 by acquiring a local soft drinks bottler.

-Japanese and Korean business are still by far the biggest foreign presence. Our best guess is that more than 3000 Korean families are here, not all coming out of Chaebol companies, most doing business on their own accounts. If we exclude Americans working for the embassy and USAID contractors, the number of hard-core American expats is probably less than 50.

-The largest sector in which American and European business is represented is what I and others term the “Aid and Development Industrial Complex”. An emerging sub-sector is the “Peace Process Participation Industrial Complex,” which attracts many nicely paid foreign consultants.

The lyrics are different, but the tune’s the same:

-Although the government has supposedly changed hands to civilians, many upper-level ministries out in the provinces don’t seem to have gotten the word, especially if they are headed by ex- (or not so ex-) military people. The farther away from the Naypyidaw flagpole, the more clearly this is evident.

-Laws may pass, but implementing instructions are slow to make it down to where the rubber meets the road.

-Doing anything land intensive requires one take up the diligent study of various land documents issued to owners over the past 160 years. In the fringe border areas, especially where there has been a lot of fighting since independence, land documents are especially puzzling.

-The IFC/World Bank has hosted a “Myanmar Business Forum” (MBF) with eight working groups along industrial sector lines. Its aim was to engage lawmakers and ministries to draft and pass law through the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI). I sat on the agricultural/forestry working group and we were actually able to get things done, in terms of getting implementing instructions for laws passed as long as 20 years ago. The most active working groups were for anything related to land tenure or hotels/tourism. Missing or poorly represented were agricultural finance and inputs (fertilizers, agrochemicals).

– A second set of refinements to the Foreign Investment Laws were passed, but they do not help much. It still costs a lot of money to set up a business here. We have been doing a lot of work setting up companies as rep offices, once we were absolutely sure what the rules were, and what a rep office could/could not do. Most of our clients want our help in establishing a presence, opening a local banking account and administering expat immigration, and setting up shop. NGO’s are our biggest customers, as they now realize that registration as an NGO (as opposed to just a normal for profit company) rarely offers them anything and indeed adds restrictions on their movements and activities — in other words, not so different from China).

-Right now a fairly nasty set of visa and foreigners laws is up for passage. If pass as written, I think many foreigners will stay away or leave if already here. As it stands, many of the laws are currently on the books, and few expats are compliant because the government does not strictly enforce them. Should the government wish to do so, it can deport anyone and everyone who is not compliant, and do so at a moment’s notice. And we do see the government deporting foreigners who do things that excite their ire, usually for political or religious reasons, and occasionally for criminal behavior.

-Like it or not, there is plenty of unrest in this country, and large swathes of Kachin and Shan state are low-boil combat zones; the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is still far from considering entering the National Ceasefire Agreement. A number of ethnic armed groups have signed the NCA and are now lapping up greenmail money and other territorial benefits, but the majority of them have not in fact been combat effective for a long time, decades in most cases. The KIA has formed a 5-member alliance of other groups that are equally belligerent and unwilling to sign the NCA under the government’s terms.

-In Rakhine state the slow-motion train wreck that is the Rohingya situation shows no sign of resolution anytime soon, and if anything, Trump’s election and anti-Muslim rhetoric has reduced inhibitions on the Burmese taking harsher action to force these people back into Bangladesh. Incidentally, slain NLD lawyer U Ko Ni was himself a Muslim, albeit from a family with generations-back residence in this country. The American embassy used to be pretty shrill in denouncing bad behavior towards the Rohingya, but since Trump’s election the United States has not said so much.

 

China negotiatingI have recently been communicating via email with a good friend of mine who has lived in Shanghai for around 20 years. He had written me about our recent series on negotiating with Chinese companies. In particular, we talked about when we push back against the Chinese companies, they are completely unprepared and assume a deer in headlights look. He then emailed me the following regarding the health care his pregnant wife has been receiving. I thought it interesting and relevant to our readers and so I secured his permission to run it here, after stripping it of all identifiers.

Enjoy.

 

Speaking of China and deer in headlights get this:

My wife receives prenatal care at a privately run maternity hospital in China. Since we have no insurance we paid 20,000RMB (3,500USD) for the prenatal package in cash. It’s been ok, getting this means she doesn’t have to take a number and wait for the 100 people ahead of her to go first as in many local hospitals. They did “fear monger” her into a useless test (because we have a pet cat) for an extra 500RMB (which I forewarned her about but she fell for it anyway). no big deal.

EVERY time since our second check up though the first thing out of the nurse’s mouths is: “have you paid for your birth package?” And it’s from 3-4 nurses each time. This has gotten annoying. Acting as a collection agency shouldn’t really fall to the “care giver”. Many people opt to have prenatal here and then go to the USA for the birth, I understand it’s a business but let’s have a little bit of professional decorum shall we?

For a basic natural childbirth package it’s 30,000RMB. But come to find out, they outsource it down the road to a local hospital. We were shown the fancy private room they rent out but if you read between the lines it’s easy to see the private hospital flips the local hospital 5,000RMB and pockets the rest. To have our “doctor” (who’s not impressive in any way) it’s a cool 45,000RMB. This doctor asks my wife’s age every visit. She’s 34 and since over 35 is considered high risk pregnancy in China and therefore more expensive, I almost get the sense he is asking each time to try to make more.

They have a shiny new center that is their showcase hospital, one nurse says that’s where we are to go and the next one contradicts her. No one is on the same page. When we pressed the customer service manager on which hospital we should go to when labor begins her answer was “you should call us to let you know what hospital to go to,” with a vague explanation about room availability as the logic behind her answer. How can you book a room for giving birth? it’s not a sure thing when the baby will come.

At our most recent ultrasound, the nurse, as always, led with “have you paid for the delivery package yet?” . She even came into the ultrasound room and was literally trying to force the document into my wife’s hands  while her dress was up, legs in stirrups and belly exposed. I had visions of her signing the document on her bare belly. My wife told her we hadn’t decided (largely because of all the nurses’ greedy behavior). The nurse then turned to me and said “your wife needs to sign this.” I waved her off and said in English we haven’t decided. The room was filled with tension caused by this nurse’s aggressive behavior. She then told my wife we HAD to pay today. We paid for 40 weeks and the customer service rep told us on an earlier visit it wasn’t a problem to wait.

My wife started to worry and I argued with her a bit outside the office (we never argue). I had a sit down with the customer service manager and told her that each time we came, the nurses’ unprofessionalism has caused us to check another local hospital recommended by an acquaintance with an “in” there.

70% of birth’s in China are C-sections largely because the doctors don’t want to wait for the birth. The whole point is we are trying to avoid a C-section (my wife has had not one problem with her pregnancy). This high pressure for the money makes me feel that we are being set up for a money grab. If it’s a C-section, the cost doubles, even to have an epidural or induce labor would tack on an additional 13,500RMB and when the pressure is on, I’m sure many couples agree out of fear. The nursing staff’s behavior is akin to a boxer telegraphing his next punch, and I’ve ducked many here.

I then pressed the manager about the percentage of people who paid for a 30,000RMB natural childbirth package and then actually had a natural birth. The deer was in the headlights my friend and I put the high beams on. She said 60%, so that’s about 50/50. We were previously told that the percentage of people who paid 45,000RMB that had a natural birth was 85%.

I told her we would check the local hospital to see (it will be a third of the price) how we felt and I asked if we still wanted to use our current hospital would that be ok. Answer: Yes, of course, and a big apology for the nurses repeatedly trying to strong arm us.

Typical China experience, the more you pay the more legal/better it is.