Mission Trip to Beijing and Guangzhou
The State Courts and Family Justice Courts Committee (SCFJCC) of the Law Society of Singapore, which co-ordinates the work of the relevant practice committees involved with the State Courts and Family Justice Courts, organised its second mission trip to Beijing and Guangzhou from 25 November 2018 to 1 December 2018 (Mission Trip).
The objectives of this Mission Trip were to:
- gain an insight into the workings of the Chinese Judiciary;
- learn about the latest legal and technological developments in the said regions;
- explore the increasing relevance of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in resolving disputes (including those arising from the Belt and Road Initiative [BRI] and the Greater Bay Area Initiative [GBAI]); and
- network with lawyers and/or the business community from the said regions.
The 26-strong LSS delegation, led by Vice-President Mr M Rajaram, comprised practitioners of varying seniority and areas of expertise. They also came from a wide range of law practices – nine from large-sized firms, five from medium-sized firms and nine from small-sized firms.
Beijing Lawyers Association
When our delegation visited the premises of the Beijing Lawyers Association (BLA), we were welcomed by BLA’s Vice-President Ms Zhang Wei (张巍) and representatives of BLA.
Ms Zhang shared that the BLA was established in August 1979, and its membership has grown over the years to an impressive number of 31,854 members.
Mr Rajaram thanked BLA for its warm hospitality. He shared with BLA the latest developments concerning the legal profession in Singapore, including the proposed reforms to the civil justice system and the new regime for the professional training of lawyers. He observed that these developments had come about in the midst of a new wave of technology (e.g. Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain technology), industry restructuring, with more cost-conscious and savvy clients, and the internationalisation of practice, which in Singapore had resulted in the establishment of the Singapore International Commercial Court.
Both Vice-Presidents engaged in further dialogue on the professional training and development of young lawyers, the legal problems and challenges posed by the BRI and how the exchange of information between LSS and BLA could be improved to elevate the overall quality of legal services provided for the BRI projects/disputes.
Two cluster discussions were held concurrently following the dialogue session to discuss topics such as mergers and acquisitions under the BRI, appropriate ADR mechanism for cross-border BRI projects, enforcement of arbitral awards in China, divorce process in Singapore and China, issues arising from foreign marriages, ways in which small law practices could remain competitive, and intellectual property law in China.
Our delegation also visited JunHe LLP (Junhe) and was warmly received by the firm’s representatives. Having been established in 1989, it has today grown to become one of the largest Chinese law firms, with 12 offices around the world and a team comprising more than 730 legal professionals.
The LSS delegation and Junhe’s representatives centred their discussions around the impact of technology on the legal profession and the corporate culture of law firms in China. Junhe’s representatives took the view that firms should embrace technology and harness its ability for better time and cost efficiencies. They shared that the firm had been working with a technology company to explore how AI technology could be used on due diligence work. Members of our delegation echoed similar sentiments as their firms had also been beta testing legal support programmes to improve the efficiency of their firms. The representatives from Junhe commented that the role of a junior practitioner in the digital era would change. Routine legal work such as legal research would be replaced by technology and a junior practitioner would be expected to know how to utilise such technology to improve efficiency.
On the corporate culture of law firms in China, Junhe’s representatives shared that the firm had always been very employee-centric. The firm was also very supportive of women in practice as they would encourage their employees to go on five to six months of maternity, where needed. Junhe’s representatives also reported that over one-third of their partners are female.
China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission
During our delegation’s visit to China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC), its Secretary General Mr Wang Chengjie (王承杰) recalled that CIETAC had developed a strong working relationship with Singapore as the Association had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) just last year.
Mr Wang shared that CIETAC had already managed over 30,000 arbitration cases, including foreign commercial disputes. He noted that CIETAC’s arbitration awards were recognised in many countries. For example, a law firm based in the United States had shared its research on the recognition and enforcement of CIETAC awards in the United States and found that all 58 CIETAC awards had been recognised and enforced in the Courts of the United States.
Mr Wang also said that ADR had become an important mechanism for resolving disputes. He noted the increasing prevalence of mediation in the world, particularly with the 2019 United Nations Convention on Mediation to be named after Singapore. In May 2018, CIETAC launched its Investment Disputes Mediation Scheme, which was indicative of its intention to diversify the range of dispute resolution services it could offer. In doing so, CIETAC would be managing investment disputes between companies and organisations based in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau pursuant to the terms of the Cross-Strait Investment Protection and Promotion Agreement and the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangements.
Mr Rajaram expressed the delegation’s intention to learn more from CIETAC, which he noted was playing an increasingly important role in resolving disputes in the region. He mentioned that Singapore had its own international dispute resolution mechanisms in place, such as the SIAC and the Singapore International Commercial Court. He also made reference to the LSS’ Arbitration, Mediation, and Neutral Evaluation and Determination Schemes which were established to provide more options for parties in dispute with a view of keeping costs low for them.
The Singapore delegation and representatives of CIETAC shifted their discussion to the prevalence of disputes arising from the BRI and CIETAC’s ADR schemes that had been tailored for such disputes. Mr. Wang shared that CIETAC handled different types of disputes that concerned the BRI, including trade disputes, mergers and acquisitions, and disputes related to sales and purchase of equipment that were to be used for the BRI projects.
Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court
The LSS delegation’s visit to Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court (Beijing Intermediate Court) coincided with the Court’s press conference of its Online Asset Preservation System (网上财产保全服务系统). The delegation was welcomed by the Secretary General and President of Beijing Intermediate Court Mr Wu Zaicun (吴在存), Vice-President of Beijing Intermediate Court Ms Ma Lina (马立娜) and Director of Office Department Mr Wang Lijun (王利军).
During the press conference, which our delegation was invited to attend, we learnt that the Online Asset Preservation System protected a successful litigant by preventing the other party from disposing or transferring his assets. This promoted the timely resolution of disputes and ensured that fairness was upheld.
After the press conference, Ms Ma took the delegates on a tour of the premises to see its hearing rooms and cutting edge technology. One of the notable technology used was the Voice Transcription System (庭审语音转换系统). The Voice Transcription System allowed voice memos to be converted to text instantaneously. According to Ms Ma, the Voice Transcription System could also recognise different dialects and it had achieved an accuracy rate of 98%.
Guangdong Lawyers Association
In Guangzhou, the delegation met with Guangdong Lawyers Association’s (GLA) President Mr Xiao Shengfang (肖胜方), Vice-President Mr Chen Fang (陈方), Secretary General Mr Deng Jie (邓捷) and other representatives.
Mr Xiao shared that the BRI and the GBAI had brought about new business opportunities for Guangdong and Singapore legal practitioners. He commented that LSS and GLA had collaborated on many occasions and he hoped that there would be more opportunities in the future to deepen the professional ties and friendship of both organisations.
Mr Rajaram observed that there had been an increase in the business transactions between Singapore and China in recent years. He pointed out that practitioners from both jurisdictions played a crucial role in facilitating and supporting such transactions and cooperation. In particular, he encouraged parties in China who preferred referring a dispute to a common law jurisdiction to consider using Singapore law, particularly in disputes over international investment agreements. Mr Rajaram hoped that both organisations would be able to work towards realising the objectives of the Cooperation Agreement entered into in 2017.
Mr Chen shared that China’s 1978 Chinese Reform Policy had helped to quicken developments of the different regions. In tandem with the growth in Guangdong province, President Mr Xi Jinping had called on legal practitioners in the region to improve the quality of its legal services and maintain high standards of the training of lawyers.
Three cluster discussions were held concurrently following the dialogue session. They discussed topics relating to cross-border disputes arising from the BRI and civil litigation; China’s divorce process and inheritance law; and the information technology used in the Chinese Court and China’s intellectual property law.
Guangdong Federation of Industry and Commerce
On the morning of 30 November 2018, Mr Rajaram led several Council representatives on a visit to the Guangdong Federation of Industry and Commerce (GFIC). The team was greeted by GFIC’s Inspector (巡视员) Mr Lu Xiaozhou (卢小周).
Mr Lu shared that GFIC was established in 1953 with the aim of developing municipal chambers of commerce and trade associations as one of its core purposes. By the end of 2017, the GFIC had more than 350,000 individual members, 143 organisations at the county level and 2,335 chambers of commerce. Mr Lu also shared that Guangdong province had been China’s economic powerhouse. Last year alone, Guangdong province saw a record high GDP of 8.99 trillion yuan, placing it in the first place in the country. Apart for this, the number of private enterprises had grown to a sizable number of 10.716 million and its foreign trade accounted for a quarter of the country’s total foreign trade.
Mr Lu recognised that Singapore and China shared a long history of economic cooperation.
He commented that Guangdong enterprises had begun to “step out” and he hoped that GFIC could continue conversation with LSS to see how Singapore law could help these Guangdong enterprises.
Mr. Rajaram thanked GFIC for its warm hospitality and shared that Singapore law practices were keen to be involved in the BRI projects. He expressed hope that these practices could help by providing mediation, arbitration or legal advisory services.
Guangdong Province Federation of Industry Association
Concurrently, LSS SCFJCC Chairperson Mr. Michael S Chia led another team of delegates to visit Guangdong Province Federation of Industry Association (GPFIA). Director of GPFIA’s Legal Committee Mr Wu Yuanliang (伍远亮) and several other representatives received the LSS delegation.
Mr Wu gave an introduction of GPFIA and shared about the functions of the Legal Committee and the present situation of the Guangdong legal industry. He highlighted the importance of the development of the Greater Bay Area and the creation of new business opportunities in the areas of construction, transportation, logistics, etc.
Mr Chia said that the LSS delegation had benefited from this meeting, gaining an insight into the China’s legal system and market. He commented that Guangdong enterprises could consider investing in Singapore and other parts of South East Asia since majority of the nations in the region would be participating in the BRI. Singapore law practices could provide these enterprises with the necessary legal support to navigate through the legal minefield and devise strategies to reduce investment risks.
Kingpound Law Firm
Before the conclusion of our Mission Trip, the LSS delegation visited Kingpound Law Firm (Kingpound) and was received by Chairperson Mr Wang Bo (王波) and other representatives.
The LSS delegation was given a tour around Kingpound’s premises, during which Mr Wang shared that Kingpound was established in January 1993 and was one of the first law firms to have received the approval from the Ministry of Justice to set up its representative office in Los Angeles, United States.
Mr Wu Xiurong spoke about the BRI and GBAI and how they had impacted the legal industry. Mr Chia commended Kingpound on its achievements. He hoped that there would be more opportunities in the future for legal practitioners from both jurisdictions to interact and cooperate.
Post Mission Trip
The delegation was generally very satisfied with the Mission Trip, particularly in the areas of pre-departure preparation, responsiveness of secretariat, logistical arrangements, the organisation and conduct of the Mission Trip, and the selection of meeting parties in Beijing and Guangzhou.
Borrowing from our President Mr Gregory Vijayendran SC, who said during the Opening of Legal Year 2019, “As we regionalize and internationalize, Singapore lawyers will continue to intelligently co-work with overseas counterparts on cross-border deals and disputes.” In tandem with the movement for lawyers to go global, such mission trips are definitely useful exposure for Singapore lawyers to meet with regulators, institutions, and foreign lawyers from other jurisdictions.