Senior Chinese leaders have repeatedly insisted China is improving market access and the investment environment, improving the protection of intellectual property, and ensuring equal treatment of foreign and domestic companies in China. “China’s door of opening-up will not be closed and will only open even wider!” exclaimed President Xi Jinping at the 2018 Bo’ao Forum.
Despite recent announcements that intended to reduce uncertainty surrounding foreign investment restrictions, doubts remain about China’s commitment to and timeline for meaningful changes to its investment regulatory regime. A January 10 State Council decision to temporarily suspend certain foreign investment restrictions in the free trade zones (FTZs) appears to be only an attempt to clarify that existing liberalizations in the FTZs supercede national restrictions in those areas.
During President Xi Jinping’s recent Washington visit, China missed its self-imposed deadline to provide a revised offer for the US-China bilateral investment treaty (BIT) negotiations and has not set a new target date to do so. The next inflection point on the calendar is the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which will likely take place in June.
China is determined to arrive at a high-standard Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) that will benefit US industry as soon as possible, said Li Chenggang, director-general of China’s Ministry of Commerce’s (MOFCOM) Treaty and Law Department and China’s lead BIT negotiator, at a USCBC luncheon program February 25 in Washington, D.C.
China has announced further details about plans to gradually decrease government control over investment decisions. The Opinions on Implementing the Market Access Negative List System, a document released by the State Council on October 19, 2015, offer a firmer roadmap towards adopting a “negative list” approach in China, which would allow foreign investment in all fields except those expressly restricted.
Companies can expect some openings in China’s newly issued list of industries off-limits to foreign investment in the recently unified free trade zones (FTZs), though many investment restrictions important to industry groups remain unchanged.