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Risks Related to Doing Business in China
Changes in China’s economic, political or social conditions or government policies could have a material adverse effect on our business and operations.
Substantially all of our assets and operations are located in China. Accordingly, our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects may be influenced to a significant degree by political, economic and social conditions in China generally and by continued economic growth in China as a whole.
The Chinese economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including the level of government involvement, level of development, growth rate, control of foreign exchange and allocation of resources. Although the PRC government has implemented measures since the late 1970s emphasizing the utilization of market forces for economic reform, the reduction of state ownership of productive assets, and the establishment of improved corporate governance in business enterprises, a substantial portion of productive assets in China is still owned by the PRC government. In addition, the PRC government continues to play a significant role in regulating industry development by imposing industrial policies. The PRC government also exercises significant control over China’s economic growth through allocating resources, controlling payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy, and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies.
While the Chinese economy has experienced significant growth over the past decades, growth has been uneven, both geographically and among various sectors of the economy. The PRC government has implemented various measures to encourage economic growth and guide the allocation of resources. Some of these measures may benefit the overall Chinese economy, but may have a negative effect on us. For example, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected by government control over capital investments or changes in tax regulations. In addition, in the past few years, the PRC government has implemented certain measures, including interest rate increases, to control the pace of economic growth. These measures may cause decreased economic activity in China, which may adversely affect our business and operating results.
Uncertainties with respect to the PRC legal system could adversely affect us.
We conduct our business primarily through our PRC subsidiaries and consolidated affiliated entities in China. Our operations in China are governed by PRC laws and regulations. Our PRC subsidiaries are foreign-invested enterprises and are subject to laws and regulations applicable to foreign investment in China and, in particular, laws applicable to foreign-invested enterprises. The PRC legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike the common law system, prior court decisions may be cited for reference but have limited precedential value.
In 1979, the PRC government began to promulgate a comprehensive system of laws and regulations governing economic matters in general. The overall effect of legislation over the past three decades has significantly enhanced the protections afforded to various forms of foreign investments in China. However, China has not developed a fully integrated legal system, and recently enacted laws and regulations may not sufficiently cover all aspects of economic activities in China. In particular, the interpretation and enforcement of these laws and regulations involve uncertainties. Since PRC administrative and court authorities have significant discretion in interpreting and implementing statutory and contractual terms, it may be difficult to evaluate the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection we enjoy. For example, China enacted an Anti-Monopoly Law that became effective on August 1, 2008. Because the Anti-Monopoly Law and related regulations have been in effect for only a few years, there have been very few court rulings or judicial or administrative interpretations on certain key concepts used in the law. As a result, there is uncertainty how the enforcement and interpretation of the new Anti-Monopoly Law may affect our business and operations.
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Furthermore, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules, some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all, which may have a retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of any of these policies and rules until sometime after the violation. In addition, any administrative and court proceedings in China may be protracted, resulting in substantial costs and diversion of resources and management attention.
We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC regulation of internet business and companies.
The PRC government extensively regulates the internet industry, including foreign ownership of, and the licensing and permit requirements pertaining to, companies in the internet industry. These internet-related laws and regulations are relatively new and evolving, and their interpretation and enforcement involve significant uncertainty. As a result, in certain circumstances it may be difficult to determine what actions or omissions may be deemed to be violations of applicable laws and regulations. Issues, risks and uncertainties relating to PRC government regulation of the internet industry include, but are not limited to, the following:
· We only have contractual control over our websites. We do not own the websites due to the restriction of foreign investment in businesses providing value-added telecommunication services in China, including internet content provision services. This may significantly disrupt our business, subject us to sanctions, compromise enforceability of related contractual arrangements, or have other harmful effects on us.
· There are uncertainties relating to the regulation of the internet industry in China, including evolving licensing practices. This means that permits, licenses or operations at some of our companies may be subject to challenge, or we have failed to obtain permits or licenses that applicable regulators may deem necessary for our operations or we may not be able to obtain or renew certain permits or licenses to maintain their validity. The major permits and licenses that could be involved include the ICP license, the online culture operating permit, the value-added telecommunication services operation permit, the internet publishing license and the internet audio/video program transmission license.
· New laws and regulations may be promulgated that will regulate internet activities, including social networking services, online games, online advertising and online video businesses. If these new laws and regulations are promulgated, additional licenses may be required for our operations. If our operations do not comply with these new regulations at the time they become effective, or if we fail to obtain any licenses required under these new laws and regulations, we could be subject to penalties.
On July 13, 2006, the MIIT, the predecessor of which is the Ministry of Information Industry, issued the Notice of the Ministry of Information Industry on Intensifying the Administration of Foreign Investment in Value-added Telecommunications Services. This notice prohibits domestic telecommunication services providers from leasing, transferring or selling telecommunications business operating licenses to any foreign investor in any form, or providing any resources, sites or facilities to any foreign investor for their illegal operation of a telecommunications business in China. According to this notice, either the holder of a value-added telecommunication services operation permit or its shareholders must directly own the domain names and trademarks used by such license holders in their provision of value-added telecommunication services. The notice also requires each license holder to have the necessary facilities, including servers, for its approved business operations and to maintain such facilities in the regions covered by its license. Currently, our PRC consolidated affiliated entities own the related domain names and trademarks and hold the ICP licenses necessary to conduct our operations for websites in China.
The interpretation and application of existing PRC laws, regulations and policies and possible new laws, regulations or policies relating to the internet industry have created substantial uncertainties regarding the legality of existing and future foreign investments in, and the businesses and activities of, internet businesses in China, including our business. We cannot assure you that we have obtained all the permits or licenses required for conducting our business in China or will be able to maintain our existing licenses or obtain any new licenses if required by any new laws or regulations. There are also risks that we may be found to violate the existing or future laws and regulations given the uncertainty and complexity of China’s regulation of the internet industry.
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Fluctuations in exchange rates could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and the value of your investment.
Substantially all of our revenues and costs are denominated in RMB. The value of the RMB against the U.S. dollar and other currencies is affected by, among other things, changes in China’s political and economic conditions and China’s foreign exchange policies. The conversion of Renminbi into foreign currencies, including U.S. dollars, is based on rates set by the People’s Bank of China. The PRC government allowed the Renminbi to appreciate by more than 20% against the U.S. dollar between July 2005 and July 2008. Between July 2008 and June 2010, this appreciation was halted and the exchange rate between the Renminbi and the U.S. dollar remained within a narrow band. Since June 2010, the PRC government has allowed the Renminbi to appreciate slowly against the U.S. dollar again, though there have been periods when the U.S. dollar has appreciated against the Renminbi as well. It is difficult to predict how market forces or PRC or U.S. government policy may impact the exchange rate between the Renminbi and the U.S. dollar in the future.
There remains significant international pressure on the PRC government to adopt a substantial liberalization of its currency policy, which could result in further appreciation in the value of the RMB against the U.S. dollar. To the extent that we need to convert U.S. dollars into RMB for capital expenditures and working capital and other business purposes, appreciation of the RMB against the U.S. dollar would have an adverse effect on the RMB amount we would receive from the conversion. Conversely, if we decide to convert RMB into U.S. dollars for the purpose of making payments for dividends on our ordinary shares or ADSs, strategic acquisitions or investments or other business purposes, appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the RMB would have a negative effect on the U.S. dollar amount available to us.
Very limited hedging options are available in China to reduce our exposure to exchange rate fluctuations. To date, we have not entered into any hedging transactions in an effort to reduce our exposure to foreign currency exchange risk. While we may decide to enter into hedging transactions in the future, the availability and effectiveness of these hedges may be limited and we may not be able to adequately hedge our exposure or at all. In addition, our currency exchange losses may be magnified by PRC exchange control regulations that restrict our ability to convert RMB into foreign currency. As a result, fluctuations in exchange rates may have a material adverse effect on your investment.
Governmental control of currency conversion may limit our ability to utilize our revenues effectively and affect the value of your investment.
The PRC government imposes controls on the convertibility of the RMB into foreign currencies and, in certain cases, the remittance of currency out of China. We receive substantially all of our revenues in RMB. Under existing PRC foreign exchange regulations, payments of current account items, including profit distributions, interest payments and trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, can be made in foreign currencies without prior SAFE approval by complying with certain procedural requirements. Therefore, Qianxiang Shiji, Wole Technology and Renren Network are able to pay dividends in foreign currencies to us without prior approval from SAFE. However, approval from or registration with appropriate government authorities is required where RMB is to be converted into foreign currency and remitted out of China to pay capital expenses such as the repayment of loans denominated in foreign currencies. The PRC government may also at its discretion restrict access to foreign currencies for current account transactions in the future. If the foreign exchange control system prevents us from obtaining sufficient foreign currencies to satisfy our foreign currency demands, we may not be able to pay dividends in foreign currencies to our shareholders, including holders of our ADSs.
The M&A rules establish complex procedures for some acquisitions of Chinese companies by foreign investors, which could make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions in China.
Six PRC regulatory agencies promulgated regulations effective on September 8, 2006 that are commonly referred to as the M&A Rules. The M&A Rules establish procedures and requirements that could make some acquisitions of Chinese companies by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex, including requirements in some instances that the Ministry of Commerce be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a Chinese domestic enterprise. We may expand our business in part by acquiring complementary businesses, as we had done in the acquisition of 56.com in October 2011. Complying with the requirements of the M&A Rules to complete such transactions could be time-consuming, and any required approval processes, including obtaining approval from the Ministry of Commerce, may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business or maintain our market share.
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Certain regulations in the PRC may make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions.
The Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Companies by Foreign Investors, which became effective in September 2006 and was amended in June 2009, established additional procedures and requirements that could make merger and acquisition activities by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex. This regulation requires, among other things, that the Ministry of Commerce be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a PRC domestic enterprise or a foreign company with substantial PRC operations, if certain thresholds under the Provisions on Thresholds for Prior Notification of Concentrations of Undertakings, issued by the State Council in August 2008, are triggered. According to the Implementing Rules Concerning Security Review on the Mergers and Acquisitions by Foreign Investors of Domestic Enterprises issued by the Ministry of Commerce in August 2011, mergers and acquisitions by foreign investors involved in an industry related to national security are subject to strict review by the Ministry of Commerce. These rules also prohibit any transactions attempting to bypass such security review, including by controlling entities through contractual arrangements. We believe that our business is not in an industry related to national security. However, we cannot assure you that the Ministry of Culture or other government agencies will not publish interpretations contrary to our understanding or broaden the scope of such security review in the future.
We may grow our business in part by directly acquiring complementary businesses in China. Complying with the requirements of these regulations to complete such transactions could be time-consuming, and any required approval processes, including obtaining approval from the Ministry of Commerce, may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business or maintain our market share.
PRC regulations relating to the establishment of offshore holding companies by PRC residents may subject our PRC resident beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to liability or penalties, limit our ability to inject capital into our PRC subsidiaries, limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to increase their registered capital or distribute profits to us, or may otherwise adversely affect us.
SAFE has promulgated several regulations, including the Notice on Issues Relating to the Administration of Foreign Exchange in Fund-Raising and Round-trip Investment Activities of Domestic Residents Conducted via Offshore Special Purpose Companies, or SAFE Circular 75, issued on November 1, 2005. To further clarify and simplify the implementation of SAFE Circular 75, SAFE issued Implementing Rules Relating to the Administration of Foreign Exchange in Fund-Raising and Round-trip Investment Activities of Domestic Residents Conducted via Offshore Special Purpose Companies, or SAFE Circular 19 on May 20, 2011, which came into effect on July 1, 2011. These regulations require PRC residents and PRC corporate entities to register with local branches of SAFE in connection with their direct or indirect offshore investment activities. These regulations apply to our shareholders who are PRC residents by virtue of their establishment or their maintaining a controlling interest in our company, and may apply to any offshore acquisitions that we make in the future.
Mr. Joseph Chen, our founder, chairman and chief executive officer, is not a PRC citizen, but resides in China and has established and maintains a major shareholding in our company. Based on our oral inquiry with the relevant local branch of SAFE, the requirements for registration under SAFE Circular 75 are not applicable to Mr. Chen.
Mr. James Jian Liu, our executive director and chief operating officer, and a few other senior management personnel of our company, all of whom are PRC residents, became shareholders of our company as a result of the exercise of employee share options. Based on our inquiry with the relevant local branch of SAFE, any application to such local SAFE branch with respect to the registration of Mr. Liu and the other PRC resident shareholders’ holdings of shares in our offshore holding company under SAFE Circular 75 and related rules will not be officially accepted or examined because they became shareholders of our offshore holding company as a result of their exercise of employee share options.
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However, we cannot conclude that SAFE or its local branch responsible for our PRC subsidiary’s foreign exchange registrations will not later alter their position on and interpretation of the applicability of these foreign exchange regulations to Mr. Chen, Mr. Liu or the other PRC resident shareholders of our company. In the event that the registration procedures set forth in these foreign exchange regulations becomes applicable to Mr. Chen, Mr. Liu or any of the PRC resident shareholders of our company, we will urge these individuals to file necessary registrations and amendments as required under SAFE Circular 75 and related rules. However, we cannot assure you that all of these individuals can successfully file or update any applicable registration or obtain the necessary approval required by these foreign exchange regulations. We can provide no assurance that we will in the future continue to be informed of the identities of all PRC residents holding direct or indirect interests in our company. The failure or inability of such individuals to comply with the registration procedures set forth in these regulations may subject us to fines or legal sanctions, restrictions on our cross-border investment activities or our PRC subsidiary’s ability to distribute dividends to, or obtain foreign-exchange-dominated loans from, our company, or prevent us from making distributions or paying dividends. As a result, our business operations and our ability to make distributions to you could be materially and adversely affected.
Furthermore, as these foreign exchange regulations are still relatively new and their interpretation and implementation has been constantly evolving, it is unclear how these regulations, and any future regulation concerning offshore or cross-border transactions, will be interpreted, amended and implemented by the relevant government authorities. We cannot predict how these regulations will affect our business operations or future strategy. In addition, if we decide to acquire a PRC domestic company, we cannot assure you that we or the owners of such company, as the case may be, will be able to obtain the necessary approvals or complete the necessary filings and registrations required by the foreign exchange regulations. This may restrict our ability to implement our acquisition strategy and could adversely affect our business and prospects.
Any lack of requisite permits for any of our online video content may expose us to regulatory sanctions.
In 2009, SARFT released a Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Online Audio/Video Content, or the SARFT Notice. The SARFT Notice reiterated, among other things, that all movies and television shows released or published online must be in compliance with applicable regulations concerning the administration of radio, film and television. In particular, movies and television shows, whether produced in the PRC or overseas, must be pre-approved by SARFT prior to their release, and distributors of such movies and television shows must obtain an applicable permit prior to their release.
We rely on written representations from the content providers regarding the SARFT approval status of the content licensed to us. Under our content licensing agreements, the content providers generally represent and warrant that (i) they have obtained required approvals and all required permits under applicable laws with respect to the content that they provide and (ii) the content itself, as well as the authorization or rights granted to us, neither breach any applicable laws or regulations nor impair any third party rights. In the event such approvals and permits are not obtained, applicable laws or regulations are breached or third party rights are impaired, we maintain the right to delete such content without any notification to the content providers. Further, if the content providers breach the contract in such a way that the contract can no longer be performed, we maintain the right to terminate the contract and, under the contract, the content providers is required to indemnify us for any actual loss resulting from such breach.
However, we cannot guarantee that the remedies provided under these contracts will be sufficient to compensate us for potential regulatory sanctions imposed by SARFT due to violations of the approval and permit requirements, nor can we ensure that any such sanctions will not adversely affect either the general availability of video content on our website or our reputation. In addition, such risks may persist due to ambiguities and uncertainties relating to the implementation and enforcement of the SARFT Notice.
Failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding the registration requirements for employee share ownership plans or share option plans may subject the PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
In December 2006, the People’s Bank of China promulgated the Administrative Measures of Foreign Exchange Matters for Individuals, which set forth the respective requirements for foreign exchange transactions by individuals (both PRC or non-PRC citizens) under either the current account or the capital account. In January 2007, SAFE issued implementing rules for the Administrative Measures of Foreign Exchange Matters for Individuals, which, among other things, specified approval requirements for certain capital account transactions such as a PRC citizen’s participation in the employee share ownership plans or share option plans of an overseas publicly listed company. In March, 2007, SAFE promulgated the Application Procedures of Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Employee Stock Ownership Plan or Stock Option Plan of Overseas-Listed Company, or the Stock Option Rules.
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In February 2012, SAFE promulgated the Notice on the Administration of Foreign Exchange Matters for Domestic Individuals Participating in the Stock Incentive Plans of Overseas Listed Companies, or the Stock Option Notice. This Stock Option Notice replaced the previous Stock Option Rules. The Stock Option Notice simplifies the requirements and procedures for the registration of stock incentive plan participants, especially in respect of the required application documents and the absence of strict requirements on offshore and onshore custodian banks, as were stipulated in the earlier Stock Option Rules. Under these rules, for PRC resident individuals who participate in stock incentive plans of overseas publicly-listed companies, which includes employee stock ownership plans, stock option plans and other incentive plans permitted by relevant laws and regulations, a PRC domestic qualified agent or the PRC subsidiary of such overseas listed company must, among other things, file, on behalf of such resident, an application with SAFE or its local counterpart to obtain approval for an annual allowance with respect to the purchase of foreign exchange in connection with the stock holding or share option exercises as PRC residents may not directly use oversea funds to purchase shares or exercise share options. In addition, within three months after any substantial changes to any such stock incentive plan, including for example any changes due to merger or acquisition or changes to the domestic or overseas custodian agent, the domestic agent must update the registration with SAFE.
As our company became listed on the NYSE in May 2011, we and our PRC citizen employees who participate in an employee share ownership plan or a share option plan are subject to these regulations. If we or our PRC optionees fail to comply with these regulations, we or our PRC optionees may be subject to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions. See “Item 4.B—Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Employee Stock Options Plans.”
We face uncertainties with respect to indirect transfers of equity interests in PRC resident enterprises by their non-PRC holding companies.
Pursuant to the Notice on Strengthening Administration of Enterprise Income Tax for Share Transfers by Non-PRC Resident Enterprises, or SAT Circular 698, issued by the State Administration of Taxation on December 10, 2009 with retroactive effect from January 1, 2008, where a non-resident enterprise transfers the equity interests of a PRC resident enterprise indirectly via disposing of the equity interests of an overseas holding company, or an Indirect Transfer, and such overseas holding company is located in a tax jurisdiction that: (i) has an effective tax rate less than 12.5% or (ii) does not tax foreign income of its residents, the non-resident enterprise, being the transferor, shall report to the relevant tax authority of the PRC resident enterprise this Indirect Transfer. Using a “substance over form” principle, the PRC tax authority may disregard the existence of the overseas holding company if it lacks a reasonable commercial purpose and was established for the purpose of reducing, avoiding or deferring PRC tax. As a result, gains derived from such Indirect Transfer may be subject to PRC withholding tax at a rate of up to 10%. SAT Circular 698 also provides that, where a non-PRC resident enterprise transfers its equity interests in a PRC resident enterprise to its related parties at a price lower than the fair market value, the relevant tax authority has the power to make a reasonable adjustment to the taxable income of the transaction.
There is uncertainty as to the application of SAT Circular 698. For example, while the term “Indirect Transfer” is not clearly defined, it is understood that the relevant PRC tax authorities have jurisdiction regarding requests for information over a wide range of foreign entities having no direct contact with China. Moreover, the relevant authority has not yet promulgated any formal provisions or formally declared or stated how to calculate the effective tax rates in foreign tax jurisdictions, and the process and format of the reporting of an Indirect Transfer to the relevant tax authority of the PRC resident enterprise. In addition, there are not any formal declarations with regard to how to determine whether a foreign investor has adopted an abusive arrangement in order to reduce, avoid or defer PRC tax. SAT Circular 698 may be determined by the tax authorities to be applicable to our private equity financing transactions where non-resident investors were involved, if any of such transactions were determined by the tax authorities to lack reasonable commercial purpose. As a result, we and our non-resident investors in such transactions may become at risk of being taxed under SAT Circular 698 and we may be required to expend valuable resources to comply with SAT Circular 698 or to establish that we should not be taxed under the general anti-avoidance rule of the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, which may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations or such non-resident investors’ investments in us.
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Discontinuation of any of the preferential tax treatments or imposition of any additional taxes could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
The Enterprise Income Tax Law applies a uniform statutory income tax rate of 25% to enterprises in China. The Enterprise Income Tax Law and the implementation rules promulgated under it provide that “software enterprises” enjoy an income tax exemption for two years beginning with their first profitable year and a 50% tax reduction to a rate of 12.5% for the subsequent three years. Qianxiang Wangjing has been qualified as a “software enterprise” by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Science and Technology and, accordingly, enjoyed an enterprise income tax rate of 0% for 2010, enjoyed a tax reduction of 50% for 2011 and 2012, and will enjoy a tax reduction of 50% for 2013. Qianxiang Changda has been qualified as a “software enterprise” by the Beijing Municipal Commission of Science and Technology and, accordingly, was exempt from enterprise income tax rate in 2011 and 2012, and will enjoy a tax reduction of 50% for 2013, 2014 and 2015.
There are uncertainties surrounding the interpretation and implementation of the Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules. We cannot assure you that the qualification of Qianxiang Wangjing or Qianxiang Changda as a “software enterprise” by the relevant tax authority will not be challenged in the future by their supervising authorities and be repealed, or that there will not be future implementation rules that are inconsistent with current interpretation of the Enterprise Income Tax Law. If the tax benefits that each of Qianxiang Wangjing and Qianxiang Changda enjoy as a “software enterprise” are revoked prior to expiration of its term, and we are otherwise unable to qualify Qianxiang Wangjing or Qianxiang Changda for other income tax exemptions or reductions, our effective income tax rate will be adversely affected. In addition, we may have to pay additional taxes to make up any previously unpaid tax. As a result, our results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Our global income and the dividends that we may receive from our PRC subsidiaries, dividends distributed to our non-PRC shareholders and ADS holders, and gain recognized by such shareholders or ADS holders, may be subject to PRC taxes under the Enterprise Income Tax Law, which would have a material adverse effect on our results of operations.
Under the Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, both of which became effective on January 1, 2008, an enterprise established outside of the PRC with “de facto management bodies” within the PRC is considered a resident enterprise and will be subject to the enterprise income tax at the rate of 25% on its global income. The implementation rules define the term “de facto management bodies” as “establishments that carry out substantial and overall management and control over the manufacturing and business operations, personnel, accounting, properties, etc. of an enterprise.” The State Administration of Taxation issued the Notice Regarding the Determination of Chinese-Controlled Offshore Incorporated Enterprises as PRC Tax Resident Enterprises on the Basis of De Facto Management Bodies, or SAT Circular 82, on April 22, 2009. SAT Circular 82 provides certain specific criteria for determining whether the “de facto management body” of a Chinese-controlled offshore-incorporated enterprise is located in China. See “Item 4.B—Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Tax—PRC Enterprise Income Tax.” Although SAT Circular 82 only applies to offshore enterprises controlled by PRC enterprises, not those controlled by PRC individuals, the determining criteria set forth in Circular 82 may reflect the State Administration of Taxation’s general position on how the “de facto management body” test should be applied in determining the tax resident status of offshore enterprises, regardless of whether they are controlled by PRC enterprises or individuals. Although we do not believe that our legal entities organized outside of the PRC constitute PRC resident enterprises, it is possible that the PRC tax authorities could reach a different conclusion. In such case, we may be considered a resident enterprise and may therefore be subject to enterprise income tax at a rate of 25% on our global income. If we are considered a resident enterprise and earn income other than dividends from our PRC subsidiaries, a 25% enterprise income tax on our global income could significantly increase our tax burden and materially and adversely affect our cash flow and profitability.
Under the PRC enterprise income taxation law applicable to us prior to January 1, 2008, dividend payments to foreign investors made by foreign-invested enterprises in China, such as Qianxiang Shiji, Wole Technology and Renren Network, were exempt from PRC withholding tax. Pursuant to the Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, however, dividends generated after January 1, 2008 and payable by a foreign-invested enterprise in China to its foreign investors, which are non-PRC tax resident enterprises without an establishment in China, or whose income has no connection with their institutions and establishments inside China, are subject to withholding tax at a rate of 10%, unless any such foreign investor’s jurisdiction of incorporation has a tax treaty with China that provides for a different withholding arrangement. We are a Cayman Islands holding company and we conduct substantially all of our operations in China through contractual arrangements between our wholly owned PRC subsidiaries and our consolidated affiliated entities. As long as our offshore holding companies are considered non-PRC resident enterprises, dividends that they respectively receive from our PRC subsidiaries may be subject to withholding tax at a rate of 10%. See “Item 4.B—Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations on Tax—Dividends Withholding Tax.”
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As uncertainties remain regarding the interpretation and implementation of the Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, we cannot assure you that if we are regarded as a PRC resident enterprise, any dividends to be distributed by us to our non-PRC shareholders and ADS holders would not be subject to any PRC withholding tax at a rate of up to 10%. Similarly, any gain recognized by such non-PRC shareholders or ADS holders on the sale of shares or ADSs, as applicable, may also be subject to PRC withholding tax. If we are required under the Enterprise Income Tax Law to withhold PRC income tax on our dividends payable to our non-PRC enterprise shareholders and ADS holders, or on gain recognized by such non-PRC shareholders or ADS holders, such investors’ investment in our ordinary shares or ADSs may be materially and adversely affected.
The audit report included in this annual report is prepared by auditors who are not inspected by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, and, as such, you are deprived of the benefits of such inspection.
Our independent registered public accounting firm, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Certified Public Accountants LLP, as auditors of companies that are publicly traded in the United States and a firm registered with the PCAOB is required by the laws of the United States to undergo regular inspection by the PCAOB to assess its compliance with the laws of the United States and applicable professional standards. Since the PRC is a jurisdiction where the PCAOB is currently unable to conduct inspections without the approval of the PRC regulatory authorities, the operations in the PRC of our auditor, similar to the PRC operations of other independent registered public accounting firms, is not currently inspected by the PCAOB.
Inspections of other firms that the PCAOB has conducted outside the PRC have identified deficiencies in those firms’ audit procedures and quality control procedures, which may be addressed as part of the inspection process to improve future audit quality. This lack of PCAOB inspections in the PRC prevents the PCAOB from regularly evaluating our auditor’s audits and its quality control procedures. As a result, investors may be deprived of the benefits of the PCAOB inspections.
The inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections of auditors in China makes it more difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of our auditor’s audit procedures or quality control procedures as compared to auditors outside of the PRC that are subject to PCAOB inspections. Investors may lose confidence in our reported financial information and procedures and the quality of our financial statements.
We may be adversely affected by the outcome of the administrative proceedings brought by the SEC against five accounting firms in China.
Recently, the SEC commenced administrative proceedings under Rule 102(e) of its Rules of Practice and also under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 against the Chinese affiliates of five audit firms, including our auditors. The Rule 102(e) proceedings initiated by the SEC relate to these firms’ failure to produce documents, including audit workpapers, to the request of the SEC pursuant to Section 106 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, as the auditors located in the PRC are not in a position lawfully to produce documents directly to the SEC because of restrictions under PRC law and specific directives issued by the China Securities Regulatory Commission. As the administrative proceedings are ongoing, it is impossible to determine their outcome or the consequences thereof to us. The issues raised by the proceedings are not specific to our auditors or to us, but affect equally all audit firms based in China and all China-based businesses with securities listed in the United States. However, if the administrative judge were to find in favor of the SEC under the proceeding and depending upon the remedies sought by the SEC, these audit firms could be barred from practicing before the SEC. As a result, listed companies in the United States with major PRC operations, including our company, may find it difficult or impossible to retain auditors in respect of their operations in the PRC, which may result in their delisting. Moreover, any negative news about the proceedings against these audit firms may erode investor confidence in China-based, United States listed companies and the market price of our ADSs may be adversely affected.
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