Saturday, December 17, 2016

The PLA and how to terminate commercial contracts

mediation by court 
China's Central Military Commission's (CMC) March, 2016 Notice on the military and armed police forces stopping entirely compensated services (Notice) 关于军队和武警部队全面停止有偿服务活动的通知 has been back in the news in China this month. (Our earlier blogpost discussed litigation arising from the Notice.)
December's coverage started with this report of a brigade of the 54th Army (located in Henan Province) negotiating with 79 businesses to which the brigade had leased land and premises. According to the report, the businesses pointed to their "black and white contracts" but eventually settled with the brigade under the auspices of the local civilian court with the assistance of a law firm that thought the CMC notice a force majeure event.  A week later, a military law professor wrote in this article published in the People's Liberation Army Daily that the "principle of changed circumstances" (set out in the Supreme People's Court second interpretation of the Contract Law) meant that military landlords were not liable to their tenants for early termination. This analysis has been reiterated in the official press and by some commentators.

One prominent legal blog highlighted the views of many legal professionals about this analysis-these are comments by "watermelon eating people" (people who are oblivious to the truth).

Chinese law on the principle of changed circumstances is found in the Supreme People's Court's (SPC's) second interpretation of the Contract Law (background on the principle found here:

If a material change in the objective circumstances that could not have foreseen by the parties at the time of the conclusion of the contract caused by something other than force majeure and falling outside the realm of commercial risk occurs after the formation of the contract and continued performance of the contract would be manifestly unfair to one of the parties or realisation of the objectives of the contract has become impossible and a party petitions a people's court for amendment or termination of the contract, the people’s court shall, based on the principle of fairness and while taking into consideration the actual circumstances of the case, determine whether to amend or terminate the contract.

In the SPC Circular accompanying the interpretation, the SPC requires courts to obtain approval from a superior court before applying the doctrine, to avoid abuse.  The following circumstances are generally recognized as a change of circumstances: (1) large changes in the price of the goods; (2) the  (2) loss of the basis of the contract basis (such as the loss of the subject matter of the contract); (3) significant changes in exchange rates; (4) international economic and trade policy changes.
Why was the military law professor's article published and widely publicized?  Is it intended to reduce the liability of military lessors to their tenants?  Does it have even greater significance about how the military and armed police understand law?

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