Following in the footsteps of the HKIAC and SIAC, 24 February 2016 the Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) announced that it will be the third international arbitration institution, and the first not headquartered in Asia, to open a representative office in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone. This follows a more than 12% increase in the number of Chinese parties involved in ICC arbitrations filed in 2015, as compared with 2014, and the stated policy of the Chinese government to “support the introduction of internationally renowned commercial dispute resolution institutions” as part of the plan for further development of the Shanghai Free Trade Zone.
According to the ICC's press release, "[t]he decision to establish an office in Shanghai follows two Supreme People's Court of China decisions published in 2014 to uphold arbitration agreements that subject relevant disputes to ICC Arbitration in Shanghai and Beijing". However, it remains unclear under Chinese law whether non-Chinese arbitral institutions can generally administer foreign-related arbitrations seated in mainland China. It is also not clear whether ICC's representative office intends to provide case administration services in mainland China. Our understanding is that, like the HKIAC and SIAC, ICC is expected to arrange arbitration hearings in mainland China but not to administer cases seated there, until Chinese law clarifies its ability to do so.