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China & Hong Kong Legal Research Guide: Treaties

Finding Chinese Treaties

Treaties are published in the Official Gazette once they have passed the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) and ratified by the State President. Use the following databases to find treaties that China is a party to.

PKU Law (UniMelb staff & student access). The database of Sino-foreign International Treaties includes all the presently effective International Treaties the Chinese government has entered into with foreign governments (including China’s Hong Kong SAR) in both Chinese and English languages. There are over 1100 treaties in this database. From the home page, select International Treaties. The database can be searched or browsed.

Westlaw China (UniMelb staff & student access) has over 950 treaties. Go to the Laws and Regulations tab on the home page top menu, and then select International Treaties. The database can be searched or browsed.

UN Treaty Series Online (open access) - includes (1) all multilateral treaties deposited with the Secretary- General of the United Nations and those formerly deposited with the League of Nations - their latest status and a link to the full text, (2) Bilateral and multilateral treaties registered with and published by the United Nations Secretariat in accordance with Article 102.

  • Tip - select Participant Search in the top menu and then select China from the drop down menu to see all Chinese treaties to which China is a party. To see bilateral treaties, select another participant and then select Match all these Participants under the Additional Search heading.

Australian Treaties Database on the DFAT website (open access) - bilateral agreements between Australia and China.

Flare Index to Treaties (open access) - searchable database of basic information on over 2,000 of the most significant multilateral treaties and some bilateral treaties concluded between 1353 and the present, with details of where the full text of each treaty may be obtained in paper and, if available, electronic form on the internet.

HeinOnline Treaties and Agreements Library (UniMelb staff & student access) - includes international treaty collections. 

See also Treaties of the People's Republic of China on Wikipedia. 


Citing Treaty Series in AGLC3 Compliant Style

If a treaty is included in a treaty series, the treaty series should be cited rather than eg: the UN document number. Treaties are often included in several treaty series. According to Chapter 7.4 (pp 125-127) of the Australian Guide to Legal Citation, treaties should be cited in the following preferential order:

1. Consolidated Treaty Series (ConTS) 1648-1919; League of Nations Treaty Series (LNTS) 1920-1944; or United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) 1946+

    • The Law Library has the Consolidated Treaty Series (also known as Parry's Treaty Series) in print on level 4 and online, entitled Oxford Historical Treaties.

2. An official treaty series of a state party (for Australia, this is the Australian Treaty Series (ATS) or Australian Treaties Not Yet in Force (ATNIF))

3. Another international or regional treaty series (such as the European Treaty Series (ETS))

  • Note that China has no official treaty series.

4. International Legal Materials (ILM) (University of Melb staff & students only). This series is on HEIN Online (vol 1, 1962+) in the Law Journal Library collection and in JSTOR (vol 1, 1962+) . This is not a treaty series - but it includes treaty texts and useful introductory information about the treaties, and it is an accepted method of citation.  

  • Note that JSTOR's holdings are more up to date than HEIN's.

5. If the treaty is not included in any of the above, use the official document number (such as a UN document number) to identify it, using the accepted style as described in Chapter 8 of ACLC3.

Implementing Treaties into Domestic Law

The Chinese Constitution is silent on the status and effects of international treaties within the domestic legal system. It provides only for legislative approval of international treaties by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) and for the ratification of international treaties by the State President. Consequently, how international treaties are implemented in the PRC is determined in the course of constitutional practice and by ordinary legislation. The text of international treaties is published in the Official Gazette of the NPCSC together with the relevant approval decision of the Standing Committee according to Article 67 (14). The publication integrates the international treaty into the domestic legal system as it publicises the treaty text in the same way as laws are promulgated. This implies that international treaties approved by the NPCSC have the same rank in domestic law as statutes adopted by the National People’s Congress or its Standing Committee.

However, judicial practice of the application of treaties shows that the publication of the treaty text is not a sufficient precondition for the direct application of treaty provisions. In general, courts apply provisions of international treaties only on the basis of enabling legislation or judicial interpretations of the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) and not on the basis of a domestic act that specifically commands the application of the international treaty in question. Hence, it can be concluded that the publication of an international treaty in the Official Gazette gives the treaty legal effect within the domestic legal system. However, the legal effect is rather limited, as it commits the legislator only to amending current legislation or adopting a new law that implements the relevant treaty obligations. The practice in relation to treaties published in the Official Gazette excludes the interpretation that the publication of the treaty text as such makes the treaty legally relevant for administrative organs or the courts. Practice also implies that legislative approval and publication of an international treaty do not trigger the transformation of treaty provisions into domestic law. The publication of the treaty text constitutes a first and necessary precondition for the domestic application of a treaty provision. When an international treaty that is binding on the PRC is omitted from publication in the Official Gazette, the treaty neither becomes part of the domestic legal system nor is directly applicable.

Source: Björn Ahl, 'China’s New Global Presence and Its Position towards Public International Law: Obeying, Using or Shaping?' in Lutz-Christian Wolff & Chao Xi (eds), Legal Dimensions of China's Belt and Road Initiative  (Wolters Kluwer, 2016) Full text chapter available on open access on SSRN. 

See also Björn Ahl, 'Exploring Ways of Implementing International Human Rights Treaties in China' (2010) 28 Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights 361–403 - full text article available on open access on SSRN.