Tag Archive for: sovereign immunity

China’s New Foreign State Immunity Law: Some Foreign Relations Aspects

Written by Wenliang Zhang (Associate Professor at Renmin University of China Law School), Haoxiang Ruan (PhD Candidate at Renmin University of China Law School), and William S. Dodge (the John D. Ayer Chair in Business Law and Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law at UC Davis School of Law).


On September 1, 2023, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC Standing Committee) passed the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Foreign State Immunity (FSIL) (English translation here). The FSIL will enter into force on January 1, 2024.

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China’s Draft Law on Foreign State Immunity—Part II

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.

In December 2022, Chinese lawmakers published a draft law on foreign state immunity, an English translation of which is now available. In a prior post, I looked at the draft law’s provisions on immunity from suit. I explained that the law would adopt the restrictive theory of foreign state immunity, bringing China’s position into alignment with most other countries.

In this post, I examine other important provisions of the draft law, including immunity from attachment and execution, service of process, default judgments, and foreign official immunity. These provisions generally follow the U.N. Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Property, which China signed in 2005 but has not yet ratified.

China’s draft provisions on immunity from attachment and execution, service of process, and default judgments make sense. Applying the draft law to foreign officials, however, may have the effect of limiting the immunity that such officials would otherwise enjoy under customary international law. This is probably not what China intends, and lawmakers may wish to revisit those provisions before the law is finally adopted. Read more

China’s Draft Law on Foreign State Immunity Would Adopt Restrictive Theory

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.

On the question of foreign state immunity, the world was long divided between countries that adhere to an absolute theory and those that adopted a restrictive theory. Under the absolute theory, states are absolutely immune from suit in the courts of other states. Under the restrictive theory, states are immune from suits based on their governmental acts (acta jure imperii) but not from suits based on their non-governmental acts (acta jure gestionis).

During the twentieth century, many countries adopted the restrictive theory. (Pierre-Hugues Verdier and Erik Voeten have a useful list of the dates on which countries switched on the last page of this article.) Russia and China were the most prominent holdouts. Russia joined the restrictive immunity camp in 2016 when its law on the jurisdictional immunity of foreign states went into effect. That left China. In December 2022, Chinese lawmakers published a draft law on foreign state immunity, an English translation of which has recently become available. If adopted, this law would move China to into the restrictive immunity camp as well.

China’s draft law on foreign state immunity has important implications for other states, which would now be subject to suit in China on a range of claims from which they were previously immune. The law also contains a reciprocity clause in Article 20, under which Chinese courts may decline to recognize the immunity of a foreign state if the foreign state would not recognize China’s immunity in the same circumstances. Chinese courts could hear expropriation or terrorism claims against the United States, for example, because the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) has exceptions for expropriation and terrorism.

In this post, the first of two, I look at the draft law’s provisions on foreign state immunity from suit from a U.S. perspective. In the second post, I will examine the law’s provisions on the immunity of a foreign state’s property from attachment and execution, its provisions on service and default judgments, and its potential effect on the immunity of foreign officials. Read more

Kuwait Airways Corporation v. Iraq in the Supreme Court of Canada

In yet another, but not the final, step in the very long-running litigation between KAC, IAC and the Republic of Iraq, the Supreme Court of Canada has held that the enforcement in Quebec of a 2008 judgment of the English Commercial Court ordering Iraq to pay CAD$84 million to KAC is not barred by soveriegn immunity (decision here).

Many on this list will be familar with the facts.  After the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, KAC sued IAC in England for conversion of several airplanes.  As part of that litigation, KAC was able to claim against Iraq for the costs of the actions that had been brought.  This claim flowed from Iraq’s having controlled and funded IAC’s defence, and it was not barred by sovereign immunity in England because it fell within the commercial activity exception.  Iraq did not defend this claim and default judgment was granted.

KAC discovered immovable property owned by Iraq in Quebec and also some undelivered airplanes Iraq was buying from Bombardier Aerospace.  It thus brought proceedings in Quebec to enforce the English judgment.  Two lower courts held the claim was barred by sovereign immunity but the Supreme Court of Canada found that it fell within the commercial activity exception.

The court applied the State Immunity Act, RSC 1985, c S-18 and held that it applied to proceedings to enforce a foreign judgment (paras. 19-20).  The English decision, which addressed the issue of sovereign immunity, was not binding in Canada and was not res judicata (since to be so it would first have to be recognized in Canada, which was the very issue before the court) (para. 22).  The application of the commercial activity exception to the facts is somewhat brief (para. 35), though there is some useful discussion of the scope of the exception in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada (paras. 25-33).

Two other points of interest: 1. the court does not wade into the issue of whether there are any exceptions to sovereign immunity beyond those set out in the statute (para. 24), and 2. the court accepts the factual findings of the English decision as part of its analysis, prior to concluding that the decision is enforceable in Canada (para. 34).  This latter point seems somewhat hard to explain, and the court does not offer much explanation.

The Supreme Court of Canada did not determine if the English judgment is enforceable in Quebec – it only dealt with the sovereign immunity issue.  The case was therefore remanded to the court of first instance to hear the claim for enforcement.  Iraq likely has some further arguments to advance, such as that the Quebec court lacks jurisdiction over it and that the English default judgment is not entitled to recognition and enforcement (for example, due to the lack of a real and substantial connection between England and the claim advanced against Iraq).