[Originally published at vikinglaw.us]
Simple practice tip: if your defendant is located in Hong Kong, be sure to refer to the jurisdiction as Hong Kong, China or, alternatively, Hong Kong S.A.R. (shorthand for “Special Administrative Region”). Any request which refers to Hong Kong in isolation, and is submitted to the Hong Kong Central Authority for the Hague Service Convention, will be rejected as a matter of course. Hong Kong government officials are particularly wary of showing any offense to the government in Beijing, and they insist on this nomenclature out of abundance of caution (aside: I truly wonder if Beijing even cares, but it is not for me to judge).
When Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony and returned to Chinese rule in 1997, the Chinese left the common law system of justice in place along with the United Kingdom’s general view of the Hague Service Convention. While China limits Hague channels to only Central Authority requests, the UK declarations also allow service by postal channels and via solicitor.
Service effected by a solicitor does not require such linguistic fastidiousness* on the part of plaintiff’s counsel. But it is still wise to draft pleadings with care—especially if an enforcement action might someday be necessary in Hong Kong. Imagine the knot in your stomach immediately following this opinion from a Hong Kong court: “while we may find merit in the petitioner’s request that this Court recognize the judgment of the United States District Court, we must nonetheless decline to hear the matter because the original U.S. pleadings attempt to elevate the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to the status of a sovereign state.”
All that effort to litigate the claim… vaporized over a seemingly trivial issue. Yet the Chinese culture demands saving face, and linguistic status matters greatly. Hong Kong necessarily shows deference to Beijing, so U.S. and Canadian lawyers must do likewise.** ***
* I looked this one up on www.thesaurus.com. Seriously.
** Update, January, 2020: It seems that now even exhibits must conform to the rule. That presents a sticky problem. See here for more.
*** Update, March, 2023: And now Beijing has begin rejecting requests on the same basis. When this post was originally published, I speculated that the PRC wasn’t really hung up on the issue– and for the past six or seven years, that’s been true. Things have now changed.