[TL; DR: don’t even bother with it in most cases. Likely the only way to get effective service in Hong Kong lies in Article 10.]

In 1997, Hong Kong ceased to be an outpost of the waning British Empire and returned to Chinese control for the first time since the Opium Wars early in the reign of Queen Victoria (1842, in case you’re curious).

At the time of the handover, China recognized the practicality of maintaining the British way of doing things– for at least a little while– and as of this writing, Hong Kong is still designated as a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. It still has an ostensibly independent local government and common law courts, it has kept its own currency (the HK dollar), and its affairs are still conducted in the English language. China has also maintained the British mechanism of the Hague Service Convention in Hong Kong– allowing service by mail (Article 10(a)), service at the direction of a solicitor (Article 10(b)), or service at the direction of its Hague Central Authority (Article 5).

Now, setting aside my arguments against service by mail– it’s just a bad idea– – I now have to conclude that Article 5 is even more likely to fail. About a decade ago, the Central Authority began rejecting requests for service of pleadings that failed to properly distinguish Hong Kong from sovereign states. In 2016’s Service of Process in Hong Kong means Hong Kong, CHINA, I wrote:

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.

That seemed perfectly reasonable, and not at all difficult to head off in the drafting phase of a lawsuit. But in 2020, they started applying the same scrutiny to exhibits— which cannot be amended– rendering all but the barest of complaints impossible to serve pursuant to Article 5. Even those bare complaints (without exhibits, with very careful diligence to include the S.A.R. designation) are now problematic too. Last week, I got this:

Tons of fun built into that. I initially thought, based on their regular acceptance of the S.A.R. designation without reference to China, that there was something missing in what I sent in. Did I screw up? Did my client goof something up despite my advice? Did I miss their goof? Nope. I didn’t miss anything and my client didn’t goof up.

For the “examples flagged” bit, with handwritten corrections (identifiers redacted), see the following from the description of the defendants in the complaint:

I was astounded. “Hong Kong S.A.R.” alone is now insufficient. It now must be Hong Kong, SAR, China. [I can’t say whether just Hong Kong, China— omitting SAR– would suffice.]

If the Central Authority rejects such omissions in pleadings and exhibits in the first place, how is a letter explaining why changes can’t be made going to remedy anything? This new basis for rejection renders Article 5 service all but impossible, so I strongly urge my colleagues to not even try. Of course it costs more, but the only truly viable option now is Article 10(b). In Hong Kong, service can be effected at the direction of a solicitor.