Delivering his annual report to the legislature, Zhou Qiang says courts must support Beijing’s efforts to revive economy and protect jobs

He also says China’s interests will be ‘resolutely’ defended in response to overseas lawsuits over the pandemic

Helping debt-laden companies stay afloat and resolving contractual disputes are among the top priorities for China’s courts this year, amid the economic fallout from

But the country’s top court also said it would defend China’s interests in response to overseas lawsuits against Beijing demanding reparations for the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Delivering his annual report to

on Monday, Zhou Qiang, president of the Supreme People’s Court, said the courts must support Beijing’s efforts to revive the economy, secure jobs, and ensure that people’s livelihoods and companies survived.

“We will help mediate disputes related to the epidemic, properly apply the rules of force majeure, and steer all contractual parties to jointly share the burden so that we can ride out this difficult time together,” Zhou said.

He pledged that the courts would do their utmost to help small and medium-sized businesses get through the crisis, protect jobs and promote employment. Unwarranted seizure or freezing of the assets of companies facing litigation would be forbidden, he said. The judiciary would also help struggling firms through bankruptcy protection and debt restructuring, but at the same time it would try to make sure those who contracted Covid-19 would not face dismissal without justification.

According to Zhou, bankruptcy protection helped 482 companies get back on their feet last year, and 108,000 jobs at those businesses were kept.

China’s semi-official trade promotion body has said at least 7,004 force majeure certificates were issued to companies affected by the pandemic by late April, the latest available number, covering contracts worth a total of 690 billion yuan (US$96.7 billion).

The Supreme People’s Court had issued judicial guidelines in April – including the application of force majeure exemptions – to help handle a growing number of pandemic-related economic disputes.

There have meanwhile been moves overseas, including by some US politicians, to sue Beijing for compensation over economic losses brought by the coronavirus, which was first reported in central China late last year. Speaking on the sidelines of the annual parliamentary gathering in Beijing on Sunday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed such legal action as “groundless” and “attempts to blackmail” China.

Zhou said the courts would “strictly abide by international laws” and “resolutely defend China’s jurisdiction and national security”.

The supreme court delivered verdicts on 34,000 cases last year, an increase of 6.6 per cent from 2018, according to Zhou’s report. The number of corruption trials in 2019 was down by over 10 per cent from a year earlier, to 25,000 cases.

Both the top court and the top prosecutor’s office vowed to ensure fair treatment for all companies, whether they were large or small, and owned by the state, private or foreign investors.

Delivering its annual report on Monday, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate said it had prosecuted 11,000 people for crimes related to intellectual property rights last year, up 32.2 per cent from 2018.

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