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Guidelines for Drawing up Chinese Contracts

There is a belief that in China the agreements set out in contracts are often not complied with, and that the system does not provide sufficient legal guarantees; in this regard, it is widely thought that signing a contract is merely the start of the real negotiations. Therefore, it is essential for foreign companies to have contracts whose essential role is to reduce the risk of conflicts as much as it is possible: Chinese business culture is based on harmony between the Parties.

Foreign companies should have clear and precise contracts to regulate their commercial relations with Chinese companies. We shall analyse as follows the most important clauses and how they should be negotiated in accordance with Chinese commercial practices and laws.



Chinese companies, on the strength of their great negotiating power, often demand that the foreign company should grant them exclusivity in all - or part - of Chinese territory, for example in distribution or agency contracts.

Foreign companies are advised, however, not to grant this exclusivity, because in addition to not being able to use other distribution channels, in the event of inefficient management by their Chinese partner, their access to the market would be suspended until the contract is terminated. In any event, the thing to do is to make the exclusivity dependent on reaching a minimum sales target.

Intellectual Property Rights

This is an essential point in any contract with a Chinese company in light of the well-known difficulties faced by foreign companies in protecting intellectual property in China. A clause must be included whereby the Chinese partner acknowledges that these rights (patents, trademarks, designs, utility models) are the property of the foreign company, and also undertakes not to apply to register these rights in China or also in other countries. In any event, as well as including this clause in all contracts carried out in China, foreign companies are advised to seek legal advice regarding this matter and to consider the possibility of registering their Intellectual Property Rights in China.

confidencial chino contrato Confidentiality

It is important to include a clause in all contracts stating that the Chinese company shall not be entitled to disclose to third parties technical or commercial information of the foreign company or to use the aforesaid information for proposals other than those set out in the contract, during the validity of the contract or once it is terminated.  In negotiating complex contracts (OEM Manufacturing, License, Joint Venture) which may include the supply of technical and commercial information, even before the signing of the contract, it is essential to sign a Confidentiality Agreement with the Chinese company, clearly specifying what confidential information is considered to be, in other words what is called "List of Confidential Information".

Quality control

In China, the concept of quality differs from that which exists in the Western world. Therefore, companies which sign supply and manufacturing contracts in China must include a clause which exhaustively covers possible incidents or breaches which could arise in the quality of the products supplied. This clause must include matter such as the following, inter alia: permission to visit the Chinese manufacturer's installations, sending of samples representing the products which are to be manufactured, inspections during the production process, etc.

Delivery and payment period specifications

In contracts with Chinese companies, it is important to clearly specify the place the goods are to be delivered. It will usually be a seaport which will have to be mentioned in the contract - if it is going to be the usual port - or in the shipment orders, as can happen in the supply and OEM manufacturing contracts.

As far as payment is concerned, the common practice is for the payment period (usually 30 days) to begin on the date the goods are inspected and approved in the port of origin, rather than on the shipping date or acceptance date of the goods at the destination.


The more competitive Chinese companies often have a large number of proposals by foreign companies for distributing or manufacturing products in China. In these circumstances, it tends to subcontract part of its activities to other companies over which it does not have sufficient control. Therefore, contracts with Chinese companies should include a clause whereby the Chinese company is not allowed to subcontract its obligations to third parties. By this means, when the Chinese company does not have sufficient capacity, it shall subcontract the works of those foreign companies which do not have this clause in their contracts.

Law and jurisdiction

In accordance with Chinese laws (PRC Civil Law), the Parties are allowed to choose the law and jurisdiction they wish to apply in contracts with foreign companies. This has been ratified in a Provision of the Popular Republic of China's Supreme Court (Provisions of the Supreme People´s Court on Certain Issues Concerning the Application of Law for the Hearing of Foreign-Related Civil or Commercial Contractual Disputes - 8 August 2007). 

Nevertheless, in commercial practices Chinese companies refuse to sign contracts in which matters of litigation are not referred to the Courts or Arbitration Commissions of China. The questions of which procedure to choose will depend particularly on the power and influence of the Chinese Party and the prestige of the Court proposed by the Chinese company; as a general rule, it will be preferable to choose the alternative of Arbitration rather than the Court.


In contracts subject to Arbitration in China, it is advisable to act as follows:

  • Choose one of the Arbitration Commissions with most prestige and international experience: CIETAC (China International and Economic Trade Arbitration Commission) or BAC (Beijing Arbitration Commission). Chinese companies will not oppose at this point.
  • Regardless of where the central office of the Chinese company is located, it is preferable for the Arbitration to take place in Beijing or Shanghai, the two cities with most experience and the best arbitrators. The Chinese company could possibly propose another city, but they will usually accept one of these two cities.
  • At least one of the arbitrators must have a nationality which is not Chinese. Chinese companies will usually not oppose at this point.
  • The arbitration will be carried out in the English language. It is important to take into account that if no language is specified in the contract, the arbitration will be in Chinese. At this point, Chinese companies would be expected to object strongly, and might even use it as grounds for not signing the contract.
chino idiomaLanguage

In China, contracts are usually drawn up either in English or in a dual English-Chinese version. It is not common to sign contracts in other languages such as Spanish, French or German. For the version in Chinese, simplified Mandarin Chinese shall be used.

It is advisable to use the dual English-Chinese version as this will make it easier to negotiate the contract, and also help compliance with obligations and an amicable settlement in the event of conflict.

However, when using the English-Chinese dual version, the Chinese company would try to insist that the Chinese version prevails in the event of conflict.


For the Chinese, signing a contract with a foreign company is an important act which is given a certain degree of protocol and which is usually celebrated with a banquet. When contracts are especially relevant, a local authority or national representative of the foreign company (Ambassador, Consul, Commercial Attaché, etc.) is often invited.

The persons who sign the contracts on behalf of each one of the Parties will have to have the same hierarchical range. Furthermore, it is common procedure for a witness to sign on behalf of each Party.

Next to the signatures, the seal of each one of the companies should be stamped - this is because in accordance with Chinese law, contracts without a seal might be invalid.

imgContratosChinaInglesTo obtain models of the main contracts that are made in China click here.

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To read the Spanish version of this article click here.