Belt and Road a turning point for arbitration in China?


As an initiative announced by China’s top policymaking body, the Belt and Road initiative has so far been endorsed by 68 countries and regions. Because these countries and regions differ in economic strength, legal tradition and investment environment, commercial disputes will inevitably occur between trading parties, and so an effective dispute resolution mechanism is needed. With its advantage of transnational enforcement, secured by the New York Convention, international arbitration has the potential of becoming the best dispute resolution of Belt and Road-related issues. If commercial arbitration institutions in China can adopt an open mindset and adapt to international practice, they may play a greater role as the Belt and Road initiative evolves.

The Beijing Arbitration Commission/Beijing International Arbitration Centre (BAC/BIAC) has seized the opportunity arising from the Belt and Road initiative by actively starting a cross-border dispute resolution collaboration and forming an “institutional coalition”. The “One Belt One Road Arbitration Initiative” is a new collaboration between the Kuala Lumpur Regional Centre for Arbitration (KLRCA), the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (CRCICA) and the BAC/BIAC, which was initiated on 9 May 2017.

Lin Zhiwei
Lin Zhiwei

Also, under the guidance of the China Law Society, the BAC/BIAC and Nairobi International Arbitration Centre (NIAC) launched the China-Africa Joint Arbitration Centre (CAJAC) – consisting of the CAJAC Beijing Centre and the CAJAC Nairobi Centre – as an institutional coalition on 27 March 2017. These efforts signified the BAC/BIAC’s attempt to establish sophisticated Belt and Road arbitration theories and practices.

Based in the present and looking toward the future, commercial arbitration institutions in China must see the bigger picture of the Belt and Road Initiative and act prospectively. On one hand, a prosperous arbitration community along the Belt and Road must be a common pursuit of commercial arbitration institutions in China, but on the other hand, safeguarding trade and commerce along the Belt and Road will in no way be an easy task.

After years of development, arbitration in China is stepping onto a new stage. Local-born arbitration institutions such as the BAC/BIAC, the Shanghai International Arbitration Centre (SHIAC), and the Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration (SCIA) have been capable of providing their arbitration services to international standards. Their international reputations and influence will boost the development of arbitration theories and practices along the Belt and Road, and thus become the “China Force”. At the same time, the different levels of maturity of commercial arbitration practice and the different arbitration-related legal regimes along the Belt and Road will bring challenges to the arbitration industry in China, including how to attract and promote arbitration, and solve parties’ hesitations and problems under “common norms and rules”.

Arbitration institutions in China must secure their professionalism and keep abreast of international practice by optimizing governance structure, updating arbitration rules, and maintaining a professional talent pool. We will be better recognized by parties at home and abroad if our arbitration services and experience are better presented. We must also take advantage of our geographic accessibility to interact with dispute resolution bodies along the Belt and Road, and learn the different legal traditions and arbitration regimes between each other. Only by these endeavours can the arbitration industry in China and that of our counterparts along the Belt and Road jointly improve arbitration theories and practices in the long run.

President Xi Jinping said: “History always progresses. And history awaits no hesitator, observer, idler or languisher. Only people who stay abreast of historical development may win a bright future.” It could be a turning point for arbitral institutions in China to expand external partnerships and build a stronger credibility by providing cutting-edge arbitration services, as well as taking other initiatives along the Belt and Road. By contributing to the prosperity of arbitration theories and practices along the Belt and Road, the BAC/BIAC is devoting itself to this undertaking.

(This article is adapted from a speech by Lin Zhiwei, secretary-general of the BAC/BIAC at the 7th Greater China Arbitration Forum.)

Lin Zhiwei is the secretary-general of Beijing Arbitration Commission/Beijing International Arbitration Center. BAC/BIAC’s case manager Liu Wenpeng and intern Chen Junyu also contributed to the article