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The Foreign State Immunity Law of the People's Republic of China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2024

William S. Dodge*
Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Law and John D. Ayer Chair in Business Law, University of California, Davis, School of Law, United States.


On September 1, 2023, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress promulgated the Foreign State Immunity Law of the People's Republic of China (FSIL), which entered into force on January 1, 2024. The law abandons China's prior adherence to the absolute theory of state immunity and instead adopts the restrictive theory followed by most other countries. Under the restrictive theory, foreign states are immune from suits based on their governmental acts (acta jure imperii) but are subject to suits based on their non-governmental acts (acta jure gestionis).

International Legal Documents
Copyright © The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The American Society of International Law

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1 Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Waiguo Guojia Huomian Fa (中华人民共和国外国国家豁免法) [Foreign State Immunity Law of the People's Republic of China] (promulgated by the Standing Comm. Nat'l People's Cong., Sept. 1, 2023, effective Jan. 1, 2024) [hereinafter FSIL].

2 James Crawford, Brownlie's Principles of Public International Law 471 (9th ed. 2019).

3 United Nations Convention on the Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Property, UN Doc. A/59/508 (adopted Dec. 2, 2004, not in force), 44 I.L.M. 803 (2005) [hereinafter UN Convention].

4 See Democratic Republic of The Congo and Others v. FG Hemisphere Associates, LLC [2011] 14 H.K.C.F.A.R. 95, ¶ 46 (C.F.A) (quoting letter from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

5 FSIL art. 3.

6 Id. art. 2.

7 Id. art. 4.

8 Id. art. 5(1)-(3).

9 Id. art. 5(4).

10 Id. art. 6.

11 Id. art. 7. Like the UN Convention, the FSIL has separate exceptions for employment contracts and intellectual property cases. See FSIL arts. 8, 11.

12 Compare UN Convention art. 10.

13 See 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(2).

14 FSIL art. 7.

15 Id.

16 28 U.S.C. § 1603(d).

17 If the U.S. Supreme Court had been free to consider the purpose of Argentina's bonds in Republic of Argentina v. Weltover, Inc., 504 U.S. 607 (1992), for example, it might have concluded that they did not constitute a commercial activity.

18 FSIL art. 8.

19 Id. art. 9.

20 Id. art. 10.

21 Id. art. 11.

22 Id. art. 12

23 Id. art. 21.

24 Russia's 2016 law on foreign state immunity does have a reciprocity clause. See Federal Law No. 297-FZ on the Jurisdictional Immunity of a Foreign State and the Property of a Foreign State in the Russian Federation art. 4.

25 Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Waiguo Zhongyang Yinhang Caichan Mian Shou Sifa Qiangzhi Cuoshi Fa art. 3 (中华人民共和国外国中央银行财产免受司法强制措施法) [Law of the People's Republic of China on Immunity of the Property of Foreign Central Banks from Compulsory Judicial Measures] (promulgated by the Standing Comm. Nat'l People's Cong., Oct. 25, 2005, effective Oct. 5, 2005).

26 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(3).

27 Id. §§ 1605A, 1605B.

28 FSIL art. 13.

29 Article 13 provides that a waiver of immunity from suit is not a waiver of immunity from execution.

30 FSIL art. 14. Because of a change to the draft law, the third exception covers Chinese rulings that recognize foreign court judgments. See William S. Dodge, China Adopts Restrictive Theory of State Immunity, Transnational Litigation Blog (Sept. 14, 2023).

31 FSIL art. 15.

32 Id. art. 20. Diplomatic and consular immunity are governed by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Apr. 18, 1961, 23 U.S.T. 3227, 500 U.N.T.S. 95, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Apr. 24, 1963, 21 U.S.T. 77, 596 U.N.T.S. 261, respectively, both of which China is a party to. Head of state immunity and special-missions immunity, by contrast, are governed by customary international law. See generally William S. Dodge & Chimène I. Keitner, A Roadmap for Foreign Official Immunity Cases in U.S. Courts, 90 Fordham L. Rev. 677 (2020).

33 FSIL arts. 17–18.

34 Id. art. 16.

35 Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo Minshi Susong Fa arts. 276–278, 280–82, 284 (中华人民共和国民事诉讼法) [Civil Procedure Law of the People's Republic of China] (promulgated by the Nat'l People's Cong., Apr. 9, 1991, effective Apr. 9, 1991, last amended Sept. 1, 2023).

36 Zuiguo Renmin Fayuan Guanyu Renmin Fahyuan Shouli Sheji Tequan Yu Houian De Minshi Anjian Youguan Wenti De Tonzhi (最高人民法院关于人民法院受理涉及特权与豁免的民事案件有关问题的通知) [Notice of the Supreme People's Court on the Relevant Issues concerning the People's Courts to Accept Civil Cases Involving Privilege and Immunity] (promulgated by the Supreme People's Court, May 22, 2007, effective May 22, 2007); see Susan Finder, Lawsuits Against Foreign Countries in the Chinese Courts, Supreme People's Court Monitor (Mar. 29, 2020) (discussing the notice).

37 FSIL art. 19.

38 Id.

39 Verlinden B.V. v. Cent. Bank of Nigeria, 461 U.S. 480, 487 (1983) (noting diplomatic pressure on the State Department prior to the FSIA).