“We will cooperate with you. We have lawyers who represent us. So before you seize our products, we would like to speak with our lawyer.” 

This is not a line from a Hollywood script but a sentence that Chinese attendees of the CES consumer electronics event in Las Vegas have been advised by Beijing to learn and use should they face any unexpected attempts by US police to seize their exhibits, amid ongoing tech tensions between the world’s two-biggest economies. 

Beyond the one-line tip, the country’s trade watchdog is offering pro bono legal services to Chinese exhibitors on the sidelines of the annual technology gathering in Las Vegas that runs from Jan 7-10, according to a post on the homepage of China’s Ministry of Commerce. 

This year's Chinese exhibitors at CES include electric car start-up Byton, whose M-Byte all-electric SUV was unveiled at a news conference in Las Vegas on January 5. (Picture: Steve Marcus/Reuters)

A joint consortium including the Chinese consulate general in San Francisco and the Ministry of Commerce will open a service station inside the exhibition venue, offering free legal consultations on intellectual property-related issues. 

All Chinese exhibitors are cautioned to travel with documents that can certify their IP rights and reach out to the service station immediately if caught in a dispute, according to the Friday notice. The service aims to “better defend the legitimate rights of Chinese exhibitors” and reduce possible damages as much as possible, it noted. 

The extra caution and warning comes as the tech cold war between the US and China ratchets up, despite a phase one trade agreement agreed in principle at the back end of last year. This year’s CES event will also welcome a bigger-than-usual contingent of senior officials from the Trump administration, including White House adviser Ivanka Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, transportation secretary Elaine Chao and US Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios. 

The seizure of exhibits would likely take the form of “emergency temporary injunctions”, a new legal approach by the US that can catch “unprepared” defendants out, according to the Ministry advice. “Lawyers … caution exhibitors [from China] to pay high attention and prepare beforehand,” according to the notice, which also provides a list of emergency contacts. 

The event is expected to draw over 175,000 visitors and 4,500 companies exhibiting their latest technologies and products, although participation from Chinese companies is forecast to fall. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Chinese exhibit space at the show is projected to be down 5 to 6 percent compared with last year.

This year's exhibitors from China include electric car start-up Byton, autonomous driving company AutoX and Lidar developer RoboSense. Participants from previous years, including iFlyTek and Hikvision subsidiaries, will be absent this year. 

Both companies were among a group of others added to the US Entity List in 2019, barring them from buying US-origin technology after the US said China had used their technologies to breach the human rights of Uygur Muslims and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.