August 8, 2016

ASEAN Summit 2016 organised by RHTLaw Taylor Wessing and RHT Academy featured in The Straits Times

ASEAN Summit 2016 organised by RHTLaw Taylor Wessing and RHT Academy featured in The Straits Times article titled "Consensus, centrality and relevance: Asean and the South China Sea".  The article was first published in The Straits Times on 6 August 2016. Consensus, centrality and relevance: Asean and the South China Sea This is an excerpt of Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan's speech at this week's Asean Summit 2016, organised by RHTLaw Taylor Wessing and RHT Academy. Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Date: 6 Aug 2016 Author: Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan Is Asean still relevant? This is not just a rhetorical question. Inability to reach consensus on the South China Sea (SCS) has exposed cracks in Asean unity to the glare of public scrutiny. Asean's relevance is being questioned by academic commentators and journalists, by Asean dialogue partners and even - sotto voce - by some Asean member states. Without a minimally credible answer to the question, Asean will be marginalised. Asean will not disappear: Regular meetings of leaders and ministers will still be held with pomp and ceremony; solemn statements will be issued. But will anyone take much notice? As far as the SCS is concerned, this is not to be taken for granted. The SCS is a major international waterway. Vital trade routes pass through it and the skies above the SCS are among the busiest in civil aviation. The SCS occupies a uniquely strategic position connecting the Pacific Ocean with the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. This is an issue of international concern. If Asean cannot take a position on such a crucial matter in its own region, why should anyone take us seriously? WHY CONSENSUS MATTERS There is no evading the fact that on the SCS, Asean is divided. The media has laid primary responsibility for blocking consensus on Cambodia acting at China's behest. Shortly after the 2012 meeting, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that Cambodia had made a "strategic choice" in China's favour. Phnom Penh has not been shy about its position on the SCS. This year, before the Arbitral Tribunal announced its decision, Beijing had repeatedly and in often hectoring terms warned all Asean members against taking a common position on the award and Prime Minister Hun Sen said twice that Cambodia would not agree to a common Asean position. Cambodia is by no means the only Asean country that has been reluctant to incur China's wrath over the SCS. The unusual forthrightness of Cambodia's leaders in 2012 and after has been a convenient cover for the others inclined to duck. Cambodia was acting within the letter of its rights under the Asean Charter which makes clear that decisions will be made by consensus. Asean's disagreements over the SCS have led to the efficacy and relevance of the consensus principle being questioned. Frustration with the consensus principle is understandable, particularly at a time when the East Asian strategic environment is changing rapidly with the United States and China groping towards a new modus vivendi with each other and other countries in the region. Their competition in the SCS has become something of a proxy for the larger strategic adjustments that are under way. It cannot be denied that decision-making by consensus degrades Asean's ability to act on controversial issues. It is sub-optimal. But alternatives to the consensus principle are only theoretical propositions, advocated by those with no responsibility for where they may lead Asean. We are not the European Union and in any case it is now clear that the EU is not the most edifying of models for Asean to emulate. As an interstate organisation with a very diverse membership with different national interests, in practice Asean can only operate by consensus. Any other mode of decision-making could escalate even minor differences into major splits and risks the organisation breaking up entirely. Decision-making by consensus is a fuse that trips when differences of national interests surge to the point where the system becomes so overloaded that it could be torn apart. Prior to 2012, no matter how fiercely we disagreed, Asean members have been punctilious about reaching consensus. Asean's most basic consensus is a consensus on always having a consensus, even if it is only a consensus of form or on words to maintain a facade of unity. We have managed to do so even on sensitive bilateral disputes between members. A consensus on always having a consensus preserves Asean's fundamental and enduring purpose of ensuring civility and order in relations between its members in a region where this is not to be assumed. This is a crucial function. In South-east Asia, sovereignties are relatively new and often still tender; historical enmities not yet forgotten and the region lies at the intersection of major power interests. Asean is intended to allow the small states of South-east Asia - and the biggest of us is small compared to the major powers - to retain some modicum of autonomy through maintaining cohesion. This is one of Asean's under-appreciated successes: Today there are tensions in the SCS but as a whole South-east Asia is at peace with itself and the world and prospering. This is a situation that would not at all have seemed likely in 1967. If the consensus principle is repeatedly abused, the consequences could be unpredictable, not just for Asean but also for the major powers, including China. A repeat of what happened in 2012 could set Asean on a path to a dangerous destination. CONDUCT AT SEA It is not within Asean's competence to resolve the SCS disputes. In so far as the SCS has become a proxy for US-China competition, Asean is only a secondary player; as much arena as actor. Asean may have only a limited role but, potentially at least, again not an inconsequential role. The key word is "potentially". Here too the evidence is mixed. China has agreed to Singapore's proposal for a Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea or Cues which is intended to reduce the possibility of accidents pending agreement on a Code of Conduct (COC) for the SCS. A draft declaration on an Asean-China Cues is under discussion by Asean and China. But China only agreed to discuss a Cues for its coast guard and not the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy. This is a serious limitation. China claims substantial swaths of the SCS as Chinese territory since "ancient times" and has relied primarily on its coast guard to enforce its domestic laws in the SCS, for instance on fishing. But PLA Navy patrols and exercises in the SCS and has deployed assets on the artificial islands China has created. Over time, PLA Navy will certainly qualitatively and quantitatively step up its SCS deployments. What this means for Asean and in particular the Asean claimants whose navies are dwarfed by PLA Navy - in fact overshadowed even by the Chinese coast guard - is unclear. The US 7th Fleet is the only real balancer in the SCS. Still even a limited Cues is better than nothing and could supplement the Cues that the US and China have already agreed for the Pacific Ocean, but which China has apparently also complied with in the SCS where the commander of the US Pacific Command recently acknowledged dangerous incidents have been rare. The most potentially consequential Asean proposal on the table is a COC for the SCS. It has been under discussion for several years. Progress has been glacial. To be of real use, a COC must deal with many substantive issues. Only the surface of the substance of a COC has been skimmed so far. A disinterested observer might be forgiven for wondering whether China, or at least PLA Navy, is really interested in a binding COC which would limit the freedom of action of all parties to it, or whether the process of interminably discussing a COC is a means of constraining Asean. But that would be a churlish thought and let me make it clear that I am not a disinterested observer and so do not entertain such thoughts. At the Vientiane meeting, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that negotiations should be fast-tracked and that China wants a framework for a COC by 2017. This can be regarded as recognition that progress on the COC has been unsatisfactory, that the SCS disputes have dented China's reputation and if allowed to get out of hand, could seriously damage relations with Asean. Concluding a COC would be a strong positive signal that any foreign ministry would welcome. But we should not expect miracles. Negotiations over the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and its implementation guidelines took 20 years to conclude. The issues that a COC must engage are more complex than those in the DOC. ECONOMICS MATTER MORE The SCS issue should be seen in context. It is only one aspect of Asean-China relations. On the whole, Asean-China relations are positive. Sovereignty disputes nevertheless cast deep shadows because how a big country deals with small countries on matters of sovereignty is inevitably taken as an indication of the big country's intentions towards its neighbours. As the SCS is the locus around which US-China and Asean-China relations act and interact on each other in South-east Asia, it receives the most international attention and tends to be over-emphasised. But it is not the only issue or necessarily even the most important issue on either the US-China agenda or Asean's own agenda. Economic integration is in my view of greater long-term geopolitical significance to Asean. The root cause of divisions in Asean on the SCS is changes in the way some members now calculate their national interests. China is looming larger in the economic calculations of every country in East Asia, including formal US allies. The infrastructure and other investments now undertaken within the broad framework of "One Belt, One Road" are binding south-west China and mainland South-east Asia into one economic space. This is to be welcomed on economic grounds but undoubtedly also gives China political influence. Beijing cannot be blamed for exercising its influence. No major power in history has ever forsworn any instrument of influence. Asean members differ widely in their levels of economic development and hence in their economic options. For some, in particular the newer and less developed members, China represents the best - and perhaps only - hope of moving up the value chain. We must try to change their calculations of interests. This is the geopolitical significance of the Asean Economic Community (AEC). The bedrock of Asean's relevance and centrality must be economic. The AEC cannot replace China in the economic calculations of Asean members. An AEC that achieves its goals of a common market and common production platform could, however, broaden options, mitigate China's influence and enhance Asean's attractiveness to other dialogue partners, making it easier for them to continue to believe in Asean's centrality and relevance. It will not be easy. The key issues that must be confronted in the next phase of the Asean economic integration - non-tariff barriers, services and some form of labour mobility - are intrinsically difficult. Economic nationalism is running high in some Asean members. Others are experiencing buyer's remorse over the current level of AEC commitment. Some Asean members are undergoing complicated political changes. It will be difficult. But we must try.
July 1, 2016

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Managing Partner Tan Chong Huat featured in The Business Times, The Edge Markets Singapore, Lianhe Zaobao, The Global Legal Post, The Lawyer, The Legal Business (UK) and Yahoo Finance

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Managing Partner Tan Chong Huat was featured in The Business Times, The Edge Markets Singapore, Lianhe Zaobao, The Global Legal Post, The Lawyer, The Legal Business (UK) and Yahoo Finance. All these articles covered details on RHTLaw Taylor Wessing merger with Vietnamese based law firm PBC PARTNERS & RHTLaw, to form RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Vietnam. The new outfit, located within the commercial centre of Ho Chi Minh City's District 1, will have presence across Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, with 25 lawyers covering a full suite of practice areas. RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Vietnam will be led by Tran Thanh Hai as Managing Partner and Benjamin Yap as Senior Partner. Mr Hai has over 20 years of legal experience and is well-regarded in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, banking and finance, telecommunications, employment, land, taxation, technology and commercial law. Benjamin Yap, a Vietnam-registered foreign lawyer who is called to the Singapore and English Bar, has extensive experience in corporate and commercial transactions. Chong Huat’s comments on the launch of the Vietnam office, "The merger signals our commitment to intensify our ASEAN growth strategy via our 'ASEAN+' network. What started out as an alliance of like-minded law firms has now grown into a pre-eminent legal firm in Vietnam. Vietnam is one of the fastest growing emerging markets in the world and is poised to play an important role in the ASEAN economy. Our base in Vietnam allows us to actively serve our clients' business needs across the region, providing on-the-ground counsel to guide them through the legal challenges posed by cross border transactions and operations." Chong Huat’s full features can be found in the following news reports: “RHTLaw Taylor Wessing merges with Vietnam law firm to deepen reach” – The Business Times, 30 June 2016 “RHTLaw Taylor Wessing expands into Vietnam” – The Edge Markets Singapore, 30 June 2016 “瑞信德泰乐律师事务所 与越”– Lianhe Zaobao, 1 July 2016 “RHTLaw Taylor Wessing merges with Vietnamese ally” – The Global Legal Post, 30 June 2016 “RHTLaw Taylor Wessing merges with Vietnamese ally” – The Lawyer, 30 June 2016 “Making it official: Taylor Wessing deepens Vietnam reach with local merger” – The Legal Business UK, 30 June 2016 “RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Deepens Integration with Vietnamese Firm, PBC PARTNERS” – Yahoo Finance, 30 June 2016
June 30, 2016

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Deputy Managing Partner Azman Jaafar quoted in The Straits Times

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing’s Deputy Managing Partner, Azman Jaafar, was quoted in The Straits Times article titled “Asian businesses rush to get advice from their lawyers” The article was first published in The Straits Times on 30 June 2016.    Asian businesses rush to get advice from their lawyers There will be a lot of work in the years ahead to deal with the consequences of Brexit. Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd Date: 30 June 2016 Author: Yasmine Yahya Not just for the British government and European Union negotiators, but also for international law firms across the world. Even here in Asia, lawyers say work has begun piling up in the wake of Britain's shock vote last week to leave the EU. The potential departure of Britain from the EU single market, coupled with the sharp fall in the pound, has got corporate clients re-examining their business models, contracts and currency strategies. Ms Sandra Seah, joint managing partner of Bird & Bird ATMD in Singapore, said businesses are still taking stock of the situation. None of the law firm's clients are in a rush to pull out of Britain or renegotiate ongoing deals that involve European or British parties, she said. But they are keen to make sure that their contracts now include clauses that take Britain's eventual secession from the EU into account. "Clients are instructing us to review contractual provisions more closely: Are there rights to terminate for convenience? What are the consequences of pre-termination? Are there options such as escrow arrangements to protect their investment?" Ms Seah said. Hong Kong-based Linklaters partner Clara Ingen-Housz said the rise in client queries about Brexit was marked. "Pre-referendum, interest in the topic was lukewarm in Asia. Since the Leave vote, however, we've seen a sharp increase in the number of clients reaching out to understand Brexit's impact on their business," she said. "We advise our clients to start without delay scanning through their business to map out their exposure in areas such as tax, contractual provisions and intellectual property, and consider mitigation measures where appropriate." The pound's sharp decline to 31-year lows against the US dollar over the past few days is also of great concern to clients, especially those in the finance sector, Ms Ingen-Housz noted. "However, it is too early to tell the impact it will have in terms of contracts on mergers and acquisitions," she said. At RHTLaw Taylor Wessing in Singapore, deputy managing partner Azman Jaafar said there will be a lot of deals that will have to be reviewed as the outcome of Brexit becomes clearer over time. "In practice, Brexit will require negotiation of a wide range of new arrangements with the EU and other countries," he said. His firm's clients have begun asking a long list of questions, ranging from "What regulatory changes are likely to occur in our sector?" to "Should our strategy on currency risk and hedging change?" and "What are our options for an investment, merger or joint venture and should it be in Britain or the EU?" These are all good questions to ask. As Pinsent Masons MPillay partner Jon Howes noted, Brexit will likely have a significant impact on the operations of any company based in or doing business with Britain, from its commercial contracts to intellectual property, data protection, funding, employees and how it is affected by competition law. "Any Britain-based business relying on a regulatory passport to operate in other EU states, or vice versa, is likely to be particularly affected," he said. "Asian investors in the infrastructure sector will also be interested to see how Brexit will affect the procurement regime in Britain." A number of businesses have Brexit-related clauses in their contracts, while some held back on inking deals until the results became clear, Mr Howes added. Still, not many businesses prepared proactively, and his firm has been fielding a significant number of calls since the vote, he said. The firm has even prepared for clients a checklist of issues that companies based in or doing business with Britain can think through. Baker & McKenzie has done the same, offering corporate clients a six-page list of questions they should be asking themselves now that Brexit is a reality. For example: Who pays taxes and duties in the contracts you have? Does your business' supply of goods or services into the EU require establishment in the EU? Does your business receive any grants or subsidies from the British government and/or the EU? These are all issues that will be affected by Brexit and could lead to higher costs or greater regulatory hurdles once Britain leaves the EU, the firm warns. But for Asia on the whole, all the work stemming from Brexit could be a boon, noted Clyde & Co's managing director for Asia, Mr Chong Ik Wei. "Asia-Pacific is a growth area for London and the Lloyd's insurance market. It is therefore entirely possible that, in the circumstances, British insurers will look to execute a meaningful pivot away from the EU towards Asian markets. That will provide enormous opportunities for brokers and intermediaries in the region," he said.
June 30, 2016

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Managing Partner Tan Chong Huat quoted in The Business Times

RHTLaw Taylor Wessing’s Managing Partner, Tan Chong Huat, was quoted in The Business Times article titled “RHTLaw Taylor Wessing merges with Vietnam law firm to deepen reach” The article was first published in The Business Times on 30 June 2016.    RHTLaw Taylor Wessing merges with Vietnam law firm to deepen reach Source: The Business Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd Date: 30 June 2016 Author: Claire Huang RHTLAW Taylor Wessing LLP has further strengthened its regional cross-border practice with the merger with PBC Partners & RHTLaw. The firm on Thursday launched RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Vietnam. The merger is in line with the Asean Economic Community (AEC) blueprint 2025 and follows RHTLaw Taylor Wessing's alliance with PBC Partners in early 2014, when they formed PBC Partners & RHT Law. The new outfit, located within the commercial centre of Ho Chi Minh City's District 1, will have presence across Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, with 25 lawyers covering a full suite of practice areas, including foreign direct investments, mergers and acquisitions, real estate, energy, hospitality and construction. Said Tan Chong Huat, RHTLaw Taylor Wessing's managing partner: "The merger signals our commitment to intensify our Asean growth strategy via our "Asean+" network. What started out as an alliance of like-minded law firms has now grown into a pre-eminent legal firm in Vietnam." He noted that Vietnam is one of the fastest growing emerging markets in the world and is poised to play an important role in the Asean economy. "Our base in Vietnam allows us to actively serve our clients' business needs across the region, providing on-the-ground counsel to guide them through the legal challenges posed by cross-border transactions and operations," said Mr Tan. RHTLaw Taylor Wessing Vietnam will be led by managing partner Tran Thanh Hai and senior partner Benjamin Yap. Mr Hai has over 20 years of legal experience and is well-regarded in the areas of mergers and acquisitions, banking and finance, telecommunications, among others. Mr Yap, a Vietnam-registered foreign lawyer who has been called to the Singapore and English Bar, has extensive experience in corporate and commercial transactions. He has more than 20 years of experience handling cases in the areas including mergers and acquisitions, real estate and corporate compliance. The law firm said that partners from the Singapore office will be seconded to Vietnam and vice versa, in the months ahead - a move aimed to boost knowledge transfer and capacity building. The latest venture in Vietnam is part of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing's strategy to bolster its service offerings across the region. In the last few years, the firm has forged strategic alliances with leading Indonesian law firm, Hanafiah Ponggawa and Partners, and South Korean firm DR & AJU, together with several other leading firms in Asia under the Asean Plus group.