Ping An International Finance Centre, Shenzhen

The single, most important piece of information in serving a defendant is his/her/its location.  Without the “where,” nothing else matters.  Domestic defendants, foreign defendants, U.S. citizens living abroad… everything boils down to location.  Now, in most places, just saying “I need to serve a defendant in Japan” is perfectly sufficient.  The Hague Service Convention applies.  There is but a single way to get the job done.  And there’s no question about whether translation is required.  Likewise Mexico, Turkey, Korea, and the like.  But there are a few places around the globe that require a bit more inquiry to determine options and requirements.  This begins a series to look at particular places that aren’t quite so simple, for better or for worse.

Southeastern China is a world unto itself.  If you imagine the American industrial heartland (think Chicago-Detroit-Cleveland-Pittsburgh) in the 1950s, multiply output by a factor of twenty and you have a pretty good idea of the Guangdong Province metroplex.  I call it that merely for brevity’s sake, because a handful of China’s largest cities– two of which are larger than New York– are clustered together around the Zhujiang River Estuary.  Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Foshan, Dongguan, Macau, Hong Kong…. those are merely the big ones.  That doesn’t take into account the dozen other cities larger than a million people, sprinkled about the region like so many raindrops.

This is China’s industrial heartland, if not due to manufacturing dominance, certainly from a litigation perspective.  Shenzhen in particular is home to more defendants in U.S. litigation than any city in China outside of Beijing,* and I’m not even sure Beijing wins that title.  Hong Kong has been a major source of manufactured goods for decades, since long before China’s rise to industrial prominence and reassumed its sovereignty over the former British colony.

Here’s where it gets tricky.  If the defendant is in Shenzhen (or elsewhere in the PRC), we’re back to ain’t but one way to do it with a very specific translation requirement and an incredibly long wait.  If the defendant is in Hong Kong, just across a narrow river, the world is our oyster, and we can anticipate proof of service within days or weeks, rather than months or years.

Always remember– proper Hague Service (really, proper service under any legal regime) relies entirely on location.  It drives the threshold questions: (1) does the Hague Service Convention apply?  (2) If so, what options & hurdles does it present?

Where… is absolutely critical.

* An admittedly unscientific statistic, but one borne of experience.  The defendants that cross my desk are more apt to be named something like “Shenzhen (insert typically sunshine-laden company image) Industry Company, Limited” than not.  For a bit on naming requirements for Chinese companies, see Dan Harris’ excellent China Law Blog post on the subject.  Even Dan uses Shenzhen as the exemplar city.