Singapore, China to set up mediators' panel for Belt and Road projects

Experienced professionals from countries involved in initiative will help settle disputes in tune with Asian values

Chairman of Singapore International Mediation Centre George Lim (front left) exchanging a memorandum of understanding with Ms Cai Chenfeng, vice chairman of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) Mediation Centre. ST PHOTO: MINISTRY OF LAW

Singapore and China have agreed to set up a panel of international mediators that will help resolve disputes arising from projects under China's Belt and Road Initiative.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed yesterday at the first China-Singapore International Commercial Dispute Resolution Conference, which gathered 300 government officials, lawyers and academics from both sides to discuss trends and developments in international arbitration.

The panel will comprise experienced mediation professionals from China, Singapore and other countries involved in Belt and Road projects, who will familiarise themselves with the various jurisdictions.

In his opening speech at the conference, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong said Singapore and China can jointly develop a "new way of settling cross-border commercial disputes that better reflects Asian values and is also tailored to Asia's needs".

As Asia's economies rise, so too will the need for legal services, especially those that will suit the region rather than bear Western norms and values.

Mr Tong later told reporters that both sides are working on the specifics of this legal collaboration, but the choice of arbitrators and the set of rules used will be "a lot more tuned to how Asians might want to do business and, more importantly, how Asians might resolve disputes".

The MOU, signed by the Singapore International Mediation Centre and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, will see the two organisations jointly develop rules, case management protocols and enforcement procedures to handle dispute cases.

Singapore was an early supporter of the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious development strategy by Chinese President Xi Jinping to revive ancient land and sea trade routes linking Europe, Africa and Asia.

Infrastructural projects, from building ports and industrial hubs to railways and roads, are already under way in many of the countries along the routes.

Singapore is tapping into this mega enterprise in four ways. One is through the Chongqing Connectivity Initiative, an inter-governmental project that aims to improve transport and trade links with China's less developed western region. Another is through developing joint projects with China in other countries that are part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Singapore is also offering financial and dispute resolution services to companies and institutions on Belt and Road projects.

Mr Tong said Singapore hopes to leverage its reputation for having a strong rule of law, a good system of resolution and for impartiality.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2019, with the headline Singapore, China to set up mediators' panel for Belt and Road projects. Subscribe