China has turned to information technology and international cooperation to meet the increasing demand for arbitration in legal disputes, which is partly driven by the country’s continued opening-up, according to the Ministry of Justice.
In 2018, more than 540,000 arbitration cases involving 695 billion yuan ($103 billion) were handled nationwide, the ministry said. That was up by 127 percent from the previous year.
The increase is partly driven by the adoption of online arbitration systems, which has greatly increased efficiency, according to Shi Hai, chief of the arbitration division of the ministry’s Public Legal Service Bureau.
Twenty-two of the country’s 255 arbitration commissions have started exploring IT technology to handle cases. Around 66 percent of the arbitration cases in 2018 were handled through online systems, Shi said during a national conference on arbitration on March 28 in Shanghai.
He said those systems are mature and have sped up settlements by allowing parties to attend hearings online, gathering electronic evidence automatically and producing draft arbitration agreements.
While the number of cases involving overseas parties remains small — around 3,700 cases in 2018 — demand for such services is expected to increase, said Fu Zhenghua, the minister of justice.
“With China’s further opening-up and the advance of the Belt and Road Initiative, the country’s arbitration work has stepped onto the world stage,” Fu said, adding that the ministry will continue to promote international cooperation and help train arbiters who are familiar with international rules and norms.
Many arbitration commissions are also adopting international standards and establishing special committees to serve demand, especially from clients participating in the BRI, which promotes trade and infrastructure projects connecting Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks.
Lu Weidong, director of the Shanghai Judicial Bureau, said the city, which is home to more than 2,000 arbiters from 70 countries, aims to become an international arbitration center in the Asia-Pacific region. It has already set up special tribunals－specializing in intellectual property, for example, and disputes in the city’s free trade zone.
Wang Chengjie, secretary-general of China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, said the commission has established overseas branches in Canada and Austria, and has hired more than 400 foreign arbiters to enhance the authority of its rulings.
China promulgated its arbitration law in 1994. The country now has around 60,000 arbitration professionals handling disputes in trade, real estate, finance and other sectors.