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China due diligence: The most basic things to do

by Dan Harris 

Succeeding at doing business in China typically requires a good partner. The odds of having problems with a Chinese company will be substantially lower if you are dealing with a “legitimate” Chinese company. That means it makes sense for you to ascertain that you are dealing with a legitimate Chinese company.

But how do you go about doing that? How can you distinguish between a Chinese company that is legitimate and one that is not?

The following are the basics for making that determination:

  • The first thing you do is ask the Chinese company to send you a copy of its business license. Do not be afraid to do this. Chinese companies do this all the time. If the Chinese company refuses to send this to you, walk away.
  • You then have someone fluent in Chinese and with knowledge about Chinese business licenses examine the one that you have been sent. Our China attorneys typically look for the following:
    • To determine whether it is real or not. This is done by comparing the information on the business license provided with the corresponding information on the relevant Chinese government website — usually the local State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC). If the business license you have been provided is fake, you walk away.
    • To see when the company was formed. We like to compare what the real business license says against what we were told (by email or whatever) and also what the Chinese company says on its English language and  its Chinese language website. If different years are given in different places, we get suspicious and we ask more questions.
    • To see where the company is located. We like to compare this against both what we were told (by email or whatever) and also against what the Chinese company says its English language and its Chinese language website. If there are different addresses in different places, we get suspicious and we ask more questions.
    • To see what the scope of the Chinese business is, as listed on its registration. If the scope is “consulting” and our client thinks it will be ordering five million dollars of widgets from a factory, we get really suspicious. Looking at the scope is a good (though not always fool-proof) way to determine whether you are dealing with a manufacturer or a broker.
    • To see the amount of registered capital. If the amount is too low, the odds are good that it is not a manufacturer. If the amount is really high, the odds are good that this is a big company. Note that this information is not going to be as commonly listed in the future.

Lastly, you should go visit the Chinese company or send someone you truly trust to do so.

Doing the above is not going to be nearly enough due diligence for big deals, but it is usually a relatively fast, relatively cheap way to get a good sense about the Chinese company with whom you are thinking of doing business. The above will not guarantee you a good long-term relationship, but it oftentimes will be enough to let you know whether or not you even wish to attempt to form any relationship at all.


Dan Harris is founder of the Harris & Moure law firm, a boutique international law firm focusing on small and medium sized businesses that operate internationally. China is the fastest growing area for the firm. Dan writes ChinaLawBlog.com as a source of China legal and business information.

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