Navigating China with Attorney Merril Keane

Keane, Merril_2010_web

Oregon Lawyer Merril Keane, Attorney at Miller Nash LLP

Last Friday as part of Portland State of Mind an Oregon attorney for Miller Nash LLP spoke about her experiences studying and working in China. Merril Keane, a SE Portland native, spent three years in Beijing following her graduation from Haverford College, after which she received her law degree from UCLA. She has since worked globally training clients on the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, consulting for  international business transactions, and advising clients on trade regulation compliance.Keane began her talk outlining her experiences in the late 1990’s studying and traveling between Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai. During her stay in Beijing, she witnessed the vast reconstruction that years later became a tall skyline. “Everything was fleeting back then,” Keane comments, remembering how a recently opened club was soon demolished. Keane also experienced one of the events behind the grand scale reconstruction, the winning bid for the Beijing Olympics. She recalls how proud and exhilarated the people of Beijing felt after the announcement was made and joining in the festivities herself.

While interning for a startup optical tool company in Shanghai, she recalls being the only non-Chinese resident in her neighborhood. She stood out so much that when asked for her stop by the bus driver, another rider was able to respond with her destination. Another interesting aspect she touched upon was that foreigners must register with the police within 24 hours upon entering China. While the MIM students did not encounter this directly on our trip earlier this year, Keane informed us that hotels automatically register their guests upon check-in.

From here Keane’s talk turned towards foreign investment advice in China. According to her experience, starting a wholly owned business in China takes roughly 2-6 months depending upon the types of documents and approvals necessary for certain industries. The Chinese government has a Foreign Investment Catalogue detailing which foreign investments are encouraged, restricted, or forbidden. Industries that are not present in the catalogue are usually permitted. Other documentation necessary may include a feasibility study, business plan, plan for lease of office space, etc.

The top business challenges Keane believes foreigners face in China include inconsistent regulatory interpretations, lack of enforcement, human resource constraints (whether cost or shortage of qualified employees), corruption, and obtaining required licenses. To take on these challenges, Keane recommends reading AmCham China’s American Business in China White Paper (link here) which is essentially a business climate service report covering industrial policy, market access, cross-sector issues, and regional and industry specific issues. She also encourages businesses to take a no tolerance tone with staff, set an entertainment policy (with an approval process), and to prohibit expensive gifts.

Juli Tejadilla


  Juli Tejadilla is a full-time student in the Masters of International Management program. She previously graduated with two Bachelor of Arts in Marketing and Studio Art from Linfield College. While her interest in international business began as an undergraduate student, she has been traveling around the world since she was nine months old. Her travels have taken her all across Western Europe, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and most recently to Japan, China, and Vietnam. She hopes through the MIM program to learn key insights to conduct business internationally and to establish herself as a global citizen.


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Filed under Business and Asia, China, Juli's Entries

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