Tag Archive for: extraterritoriality

How to Criticize U.S. Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (Part I)

Written by Bill Dodge, the John D. Ayer Chair in Business Law and Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law.

China has been critical of U.S. extraterritorial jurisdiction. In February, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a report entitled “The U.S. Willful Practice of Long-arm Jurisdiction and its Perils.” In the report, the Ministry complained about U.S. secondary sanctions, the discovery of evidence abroad, the Helms-Burton Act, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, and the use of extraterritorial jurisdiction in criminal cases. The report claimed that U.S. extraterritorial jurisdiction has caused “severe harm … to the international political and economic order and the international rule of law.”

There are better and worse ways to criticize U.S. extraterritorial jurisdiction. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs report pursues some of the worse ways and neglects some better ones. In this post, I discuss a few of the report’s shortcoming. In a second post, I discuss stronger arguments that one could make against U.S. extraterritorial jurisdiction. Read more

Can China’s New “Blocking Statute” Combat Foreign Sanctions?

by Jingru Wang, Wuhan University Institute of International Law

  1. Background

A blocking statute is adopted by a country to hinder the extraterritorial application of foreign legislation.[1] For example, the EU adopted Council Regulation No 2271/96 (hereinafter “EU Blocking Statute”) in 1996 to protest the US’s extraterritorial sanctions legislation concerning Cuba, Iran and Libya.[2] Since Donald Trump became the US president, the US government officially defined China as its competitor.[3] Consequently, China has been increasingly targeted by US sanctions. For example, in 2018, the US imposed broad sanctions on China’s Equipment Development Department (EDD), the branch of the military responsible for weapons procurement and its director for violating the US law on sanctions against Russia.[4] In 2020, the US announced new sanctions on Chinese firms for aiding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.[5] A number of “Belt and Road” countries are targeted by US primary sanctions, which means that Chinese entities may face a high risk of secondary sanctions for trading with these countries. In these contexts, Chinese scholars and policy makers explore the feasibility to enact blocking law to counter foreign sanctions.[6] On 9 January 2021, China’s Ministry of Commerce (hereinafter “MOFCOM”) issued “Rules on Counteracting Unjustified Extraterritorial Application of Foreign Legislation and Other Measures” (hereinafter “Chinese Blocking Rules”), which entered into force on the date of the promulgation.[7]

 

  1. Analysis of the Main Content

Competent Authority: Chinese government will establish a “Working Mechanism” led by the MOFCOM and composed of relevant central departments, such as the National Development and Reform Commission. The Working Mechanism will take charge of counteracting unjustified extraterritorial application of foreign legislation and other measures (Art. 4).

Targeted extraterritorial measures: The Chinese Blocking Rules target foreign legislation and other measures unjustifiably prohibit or restrict Chinese parties from engaging in normal economic, trade and related activities with third state’s parties (Art. 2), which is the so-called “secondary sanction”. Namely, if China considers sanctions unilaterally imposed by the US against a third country unjustified and violating international law, it may nullify such sanctions and allow Chinese companies to continue to transact with the third country. These Rules do not impact restrictions on business activities between China and the sanctioning country.

Unlike the EU Blocking Statute, the Chinese Blocking Rules do not provide an annex listing the legislation subject to the blocking but grant the Working Mechanism discretion. To determine whether foreign legislation or other measures fall within the application scope of the Chinese Blocking Rules, the Working Mechanism shall consider (1) the international law and fundamental principle of international relations; (2) potential impact on China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests; (3) potential impact on the legitimate interest of the Chinese party and (4) all other factors (Art. 6). On the one hand, the non-exhaustive list grants the Working Mechanism broad flexibility to analyse on a case-by-case basis. China has repeatedly become the target of US secondary sanctions. An exhaustive list of foreign legislation and other measures is insufficient to deal with the changing situations. On the other hand, China is prudent in confrontation with other countries. In a press conference, the MOFCOM spokesman stated that “the working mechanism will closely follow the inappropriate extraterritorial application of relevant national laws and measures.”[8] Therefore, the response of other countries will influence the enforcement of the Chinese Blocking Rules.

It is noteworthy the Chinese Blocking Rules will not affect China’s performance of its international obligations. These Rules shall not apply to such extraterritorial application of foreign legislation and measures as provided for in treaties or international agreements to which China is a party (Art. 15).

Information reporting system: A Chinese party prohibited or restricted by foreign legislation and other measures from engaging in normal economic, trade and related activities with a third state’s party shall report such matters to the MOFCOM within 30 days (Art. 5). Otherwise, the Chinese party may be warned, ordered to rectify or fined (Art. 13). To encourage the information report, Art. 5 of the Chinese Blocking Rules also provides that the competent authority shall keep such report confidential at the request of the Chinese party. The staff of the competent authority may undertake administrative penalties if they fail with such obligation (Art. 14).

Concerning the Information reporting system, when the report obligation is triggered is unclear. Should the Chinese party report within 30 days after the foreign legislation is published or other measures are taken or after its actual operation is restricted? Moreover, since the Chinese Blocking Rules do not list targeted foreign legislation and other measures, the Chinese party should rely on their judgment to report. Finally, who should report on behalf of the legal person remains to be answered.

Prohibition order: Once the unjustified extraterritorial application of foreign legislation and other measures is confirmed, the Working Mechanism may decide that the MOFCOM shall issue a prohibition order to ban the effect of relevant foreign legislation and other measures (Art. 7). A Chinese party that fails to observe the prohibition order will be punished (Art. 13). Therefore, Chinese parties are forced to comply with either Chinese or foreign laws. In other words, they will be punished by one or the other. To free the party from the dilemma, a Chinese party may apply for exemption from compliance with a prohibition order (Art. 8). China-based subsidiaries of foreign companies are formed under Chinese law. They are considered to be Chinese entities. Therefore, unless otherwise provided by law, they are subject to the prohibition order issued under the Chinese Blocking Rules and can apply for the exemption.

One major uncertainty is whether third state’s parties are subject to the prohibition order. These Rules do not stipulate that foreign entities will be punished by violating the prohibition order or can apply for the exemption. However, it is suggested that the prohibition order may bind the third state’s party for two reasons. Firstly, the US may issue secondary sanctions to prohibit Chinese parties from trading with third state’s parties (Iran as an example), or to prohibit third state’s parties (EU as an example) from trading with Chinese parties. According to Art. 2 of the Chinese Blocking Rules, both situations may obstruct the normal economic, trade and related activities between the Chinese party and the third state’s party. If the prohibition order merely applies to the Chinese party, it cannot protect Chinese businesses from being prejudiced by the US secondary sanctions in the latter situation. Secondly, a Chinese party can bring a lawsuit before the People’s Court against the party who infringes the legitimate interest of such Chinese party by complying with the foreign legislation and other measures covered by the prohibition order (Art. 9). This article does not limit the defendant to “a Chinese party.” Thus it shall include the third state’s party. If the prohibition order does not bind the third state’s party, it is doubtful that such third state’s party is liable for not complying with the prohibition order.

The prohibition order refrains relevant parties from complying with specific foreign legislation and other measures. A question is how should the prohibition order be observed. According to the European Commission’s Guidance Note, the purpose of the EU Blocking Statute is to ensure that business decisions on trading with third States remain free. It does not oblige EU operators to do business with Iran or Cuba. Also, the Chinese Blocking Rules cannot and should not oblige the Chinese party and the third state’s party to engage with each other. Therefore, it raises the worry that these Rules may apply better for breach of existing contract but be more difficult to “force” someone to enter into a contract or in terms of the pre-contractual obligation.

Judicial Remedy: A Chinese party can bring a lawsuit before the People’s Court of PRC against the party who infringes its legitimate interest by complying with the foreign legislation or measures covered by the prohibition order. A Chinese party may also suit the party who benefits from the judgment or ruling made under such foreign legislation or other measures before the People’s Court (Art. 9). Problems may arise if the losing party has no asset in China seized for enforcement by the Chinese court. Other countries may be reluctant to recognize and enforce such judgment.

Government support: Members of the Working Mechanism shall provide guidance and service to Chinese parties to deal with unjustified extraterritorial application of foreign legislation and other measures (Art. 10). Suppose a Chinese party that observes the prohibition suffers significant losses resulting from non-compliance with the relevant foreign legislation and measures. In that case, relevant government departments may provide necessary support based on specific circumstances (Art. 11). Which government department is responsible for these matters? Does “Necessary support” include financial compensation or support on litigation in the sanctioning country? These questions remain to be answered.

 

  1. Impact of the Blocking Statute

Considering that China has long suffered from secondary sanctions issued by the US government, promulgating the Chinese Blocking Rules is not a surprise. Overall, the Chinese Blocking Rules attempt to establish three core institutions anticipated by Chinese scholars: (1) blocking the effect and enforcement of specific foreign legislation in China; (2) prohibiting relevant parties from complying with specific foreign legislation and other measures; (3) enabling relevant parties to recover the damage from the party who complies with the foreign legislation and measures covered by the prohibition order. Therefore, a blocking statute serves as both shield and sword to fight against foreign sanctions.

But the function of blocking statute shall not be overemphasized. The same as the EU Blocking Statute, the Chinese Blocking Rules create a quandary for relevant parties.

For Chinese parties, if they comply with the Chinese prohibition order, they have to deal with US penalties. Chinese parties may invoke “foreign sovereign compulsion”[9] as a defence to insulate themselves from certain US sanctions penalties. In determining whether to buy such argument, US courts often consider whether foreign states actively enforce them.[10] The Chinese Blocking Rules can provide a legal basis for Chinese parties to exempt from the US sanctions by strategic enforcement actions. If so, Chinese parties will be relieved to transact with third state’s parties. But the Chinese government may not be willing to provide the same exemption. Out of self-interest, Chinese parties may be more likely to comply with the Chinese Blocking Rules.

These Rules have not yet stipulated the legal result if third states’ parties violate the Chinese prohibition order. In principle, prescriptive jurisdiction can be extraterritorial, but enforcement jurisdiction must be territorial. Therefore, China cannot always extend the effect of Blocking Rules to a third state’s party even if it has the will. However, it is reasonable to assume that third state’s parties may be added to the “unreliable entities list”[11] for disregarding the Chinese prohibition order. It may prompt third state’s parties to observe the Chinese prohibition order voluntarily to preserve their assets and reputation in China. But even if third state’s parties value the Chinese market, it is uneasy for them to choose China over the US.

China has become more active in exploring countermeasures against the US. On 19 September 2020, MOFCOM released provisions on establishing “unreliable entity list.”[12] Promulgation of the Chinese Blocking Rules is another proactive attempt. However, both are departmental rules, which are at a relatively low-level in the Chinese legal system. Predictably, higher-level legislation concerning the extraterritorial effect of foreign legislation and other measures will be enacted in the future. It may prompt China and the US back to the negotiating table.

[1] Menno T. Kamminga, “Extraterritoriality”, Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, November 2012, para. 26.

[2] COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 2271/96, available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:01996R2271-20140220.

[3] White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December 2017.

[4] CAATSA – Russia-related Designations, available at: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20180920_33. aspx.

[5] North Korea Designations, available at: https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/recent-actions/20201208.

[6] Ye Yan, “On the EU Blocking Statute”, Pacific Journal, Vol. 28, No. 3, Mar. 2020, pp. 50-66; Huo Zhengxin, “Extraterritoriality of Domestic Law: American Model, Jurisprudential Deconstruction and Chinese Approach”, Tribune of Political Science and Law, Vol. 38, No. 2, Mar. 2020, pp. 173-191.

[7] Rules on Counteracting Unjustified Extraterritorial Application of Foreign Legislation and Other Measures, available at: http://www.mofcom.gov.cn/article/i/jyjl/e/202101/20210103032421.shtml.

[8] The Head of the Department of Treaty of Law of Ministry of Commerce answers press on “Rules on Counteracting Unjustified Extraterritorial Application of Foreign Legislation and Other Measures”, available at:  http://www.mofcom.gov.cn/article/news/202101/20210103029779.shtml.

 

[9] “Foreign Sovereign Compulsion” means that if a party is obliged to do or not to do an act by a state, it may constitute a defence for not complying with the obligation specified by the US law before the US court. See American Law Institute, Restatement of the Law, Third, The Foreign Relations Law of the United States, American Law Institute Publishers, 1990, p. 341.

[10] M. J. Hoda, “The Aerospatiale Dilemma: Why U.S. Courts Ignore Blocking Statutes and What Foreign States Can Do About It”, California Law Review, Vol. 106, No. 1, 2018.

[11] The entity added to the list will be restricted on China-related trade, investment in China and travel or work permits. See “MOFCOM Order No. 4 of 2020 on Provisions on the Unreliable Entity List”, available at:

http://www.mofcom.gov.cn/article/b/fwzl/202009/20200903002593.shtml.

[12] Ibid.

 

Worldwide Removal Order Upheld Against Google

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld, by a 7-2 decision, an injunction issued by lower courts in British Columbia requiring Google, a non-party to the litigation, to globally remove or “de-index” the websites of the defendant so that they do not appear in any search results.  This is the first such decision by Canada’s highest court.

In Google Inc. v Equustek Solutions Inc., 2017 SCC 34 (available here) Equustek sued Datalink for various intellectual property violations relating to the manufacture and sale of a networking device.  Interlocutory orders were made against Datalink but it did not comply and it cut any connections it had to British Columbia (para 7).  It continued its conduct, operating from an unknown location and selling its device over the internet.  After some cooperative efforts with Google (de-indexing specific web pages but not Datalink’s entire websites) were unsuccessful to stop potential customers from finding Datalink’s device, Equustek sought an interlocutory injunction stopping Google from including any parts of Datalink websites in its search results worldwide.  Google acknowledged that it could do this relatively easily (paras 43 and 50) but it resisted the injunction.

The issue of the British Columbia court’s in personam or territorial jurisdiction over Google featured prominently in the lower court decisions, especially that of Justice Fenlon for the British Columbia Supreme Court (available here).  This is an interesting issue in its own right, considering the extent to which a corporation can be present or carry on business in a province in a solely virtual (through the internet) manner (rather than having any physical presence).  There is considerable American law on this issue, including the much-discussed decision in Zippo Manufacturing v Zippo Dot Com Inc., 952 F Supp 119 (WD Pa 1997).  In the Supreme Court of Canada, Google barely raised the question of jurisdiction, leading the court to state that it had not challenged the lower courts’ findings of in personam and territorial jurisdiction (para 37).  So more on that issue will have to wait for another case.

The majority decision (written by Abella J) applies the standard three-part test for an interlocutory injunction (para 25).  In doing so it confirms two important points.  First, it holds that a non-party can be made subject to an interlocutory injunction.  It relies on considerable jurisprudence about Norwich orders and Mareva injunctions, both of which frequently bind non-parties.  The common theme the court draws from these cases and applies to this case is the necessity of the non-party being bound for the order to be effective.  In the majority’s view, the injunction against Google is a necessity if the ongoing irreparable harm to Equustek is to be stopped (para 35).  Second, it holds that an interlocutory injunction can be made with extraterritorial effect in cases in which the court has in personam jurisdiction over the entity being enjoined (para 38).  Again, it made such an extraterritorial order in this case because that was, in its view, necessary for the injunction to be effective.  An order limited to searches or websites in Canada would not have addressed the harm.

The dissenting judges (Cote J and Rowe J) accept both of these important points of law.  They acknowledge that the court has the ability, in law, to issue such an injunction (para 55).  But on the facts of this case they determine that the injunction should not have been granted, for several reasons.  First, the injunction is not interlocutory but rather permanent, so that more restraint is warranted.  In their view, Equustek will not continue the action against Datalink, content to have obtained the order against Google (paras 62-63).  In response, the majority notes it is open to Google to apply in future to have the order varied or vacated if the proceedings have not progressed toward trial (para 51).  Because they consider the injunction to be permanent, the dissenting judges object that no violation of Equustek’s rights has as of yet been established on a balance of probabilities (para 66) such that there is no foundation for such a remedy.  Since the majority considers the injunction to be interlocutory this issue does not arise for it.

Second, the dissent rejects the reliance on Norwich orders and Mareva injunctions, noting that in those cases the order does not enforce a plaintiff’s substantive rights (para 72).  In essence, this order is a step farther than the courts have gone in previous cases and not one the dissent is willing to take.  The dissent also denies the injunction because (i) it is mandatory in nature rather than prohibitive, (ii) it is unconvinced that the order would be effective in reducing harm to Equustek and (iii) it thinks there is sufficient evidence that Datalink could be sued in France so that an alternative to enjoining Google is available.  Aspects of this supplementary reasoning are open to debate.  First, the distinction between mandatory and prohibitive orders is not overly rigid and in any event mandatory orders are possible, especially in cases in which the target of the order can easily comply.  Second, common sense suggests the injunction would have at least some impact on the ongoing alleged violations, even though of course there are other internet search engines.  Moreover, the majority points out that it is “common ground that Datalink was unable to carry on business in a commercially viable way unless its websites were in Google’s search results” (para 34).  On the issue of effectiveness, the dissenting judges do not seem to be on this common ground.  Third, proceedings against Datalink in France might or might not be viable.  Even if it could be found in France, it could subsequently leave the jurisdiction and continue its operations elsewhere.  So this seems a hard basis on which to deny Equustek the injunction.

It is fair for the dissent to point out that this injunction is not perfectly analogous to Norwich orders and Mareva injunctions.  It does move beyond those cases.  The debate is whether this is a reasonable incremental move in the jurisprudence relating to the internet or goes too far.  The majority’s overarching rationale for the move is the necessity of the injunction on these facts.  Coupled with the ease with which Google can comply, this is a sufficient basis to evolve the law in the way the court does.

Supreme Court of Canada Allows Courts to Sit Extraterritorially

In Endean v British Columbia, 2016 SCC 42 (available here) the Supreme Court of Canada has held that “In pan-national class action proceedings over which the superior court has subject-matter and personal jurisdiction, a judge of that court has the discretion to hold a hearing outside his or her territory in conjunction with other judges managing related class actions, provided that the judge will not have to resort to the court’s coercive powers in order to convene or conduct the hearing and the hearing is not contrary to the law of the place in which it will be held” (quotation from the court’s summary/headnote).

The qualifications on the holding are important, since some of the earlier lower court decisions had been more expansive in asserting the inherent power of the superior court to sit outside the province (for example beyond the class proceedings context).  I am concerned about any extraterritorial hearings that are not expressly authorized by specific statutory provisions, but I do appreciate the utility (from an efficiency perspective) of the court’s conclusion in the particular context of this dispute.  It remains to be seen if attempts will be made to broaden this holding to other contexts.

The court has also held that “A video link between the out-of-province courtroom where the hearing takes place and a courtroom in the judge’s home province is not a condition for a judge to be able to sit outside his or her home province. Neither the [class proceeding statutes] nor the inherent jurisdiction of the court imposes such a requirement. The open court principle is not violated when a superior court judge exercises his or her discretion to sit outside his or her home province without a video link to the home jurisdiction” (quotation from the court’s summary/headnote).

This aspect of the decision concerns me, since my view is that the open court principle requires that members of the Ontario public and the media can see the proceedings of an Ontario court in an Ontario courtroom.  It is a hollow claim that they can fly to another province to watch them there.  The separate concurring decision appreciates this aspect of the case more than the majority decision, though it too stops short of requiring a video link.  In its view, “While the court should not presumptively order that a video link back to the home provinces be set up where the court sits extraprovincially, members of the public, the media, or counsel can request that a video link or other means be used to enhance the accessibility of the hearing. If such a request is made, or the judge considers it appropriate, a video link or other means to enhance accessibility should be ordered, subject to any countervailing considerations” (quotation from the court’s summary/headnote).