Overview of China's Investment Climate
Amid a 39 percent decrease in global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows, FDI into China fell only 2.6 percent in 2009, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). UNCTAD's preliminary estimates show 2009 FDI flows into China (not including finance) totaled $90 billion, making China the second largest recipient of FDI after the United States. UNCTAD estimates that FDI stopped declining in China in the latter half of 2009.
China's sustained high economic growth rate explains its relative attractiveness as an FDI destination. However, foreign investors face a range of potential problems that affect China's investment climate. These problems include a lack of transparency, weak intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, corruption, industrial policies that protect and promote local firms, and an unreliable legal system.
China has a legal and regulatory framework granting it the authority to restrict foreign investment that it deems not to be in China's national interest. Key terms and standards in many regulations are undefined. China has told the United States that it wants to preserve flexibility for its regulators to approve or block foreign investment projects in response to changing circumstances. The potential restrictions that China may impose are much broader than those of most developed countries, including the national security review conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
At the moment, China appears to discourage foreign investments:
China's laws and regulations give regulators significant discretion to shield inefficient or monopolistic enterprises from foreign competition. They are also often applied in a manner that is not transparent. In addition, overall predictability for foreign investors has suffered because investors are less certain that China will approve proposed investment projects.
While insisting it remains open to inward investment, China's leadership has also stated that China is actively seeking to promote investment in higher value-added sectors, including high technology research and development, advanced manufacturing, energy efficiency, and modern agriculture and services, rather than basic manufacturing. China also seeks to spread the benefits of foreign investment beyond China's more wealthy coastal areas by encouraging foreign companies to establish regional headquarters and operations in Central, Western, and Northeastern China.
Five Year Plan
China defines its broad economic goals through five-year macro-economic plans. The most significant of these for foreign investors is China's Five-Year Plan on Foreign Capital Utilization. The most recent version was released in November 2006 and promised greater scrutiny of foreign capital utilization. The plan calls for the realization of a "fundamental shift" from quantity to quality in foreign investment from 2006 to 2010.
According to the document, the focus of China's investment policy should change from shoring up domestic capital and foreign exchange shortfalls to introducing advanced technology, management expertise, and talent. Government regulators should pay more attention to the environment and energy efficiency when evaluating investments for government approval. The document also demands tighter tax supervision of foreign enterprises and seeks to restrict foreigners' acquisition of "dragon head" enterprises (i.e., premier Chinese firms), prevent the "emergence or expansion of foreign capital monopolies," protect "national economic security," particularly "industrial security," and prevent the "excessive use of intellectual property rights protection that is unfavorable to Chinese indigenous innovation."
Foreign Investment Catalogue
China outlines its specific foreign investment objectives primarily through its Catalogue for the Guidance of Foreign Investment Industries. The most recent version of this Foreign Investment Catalogue entered into effect in 2007. The catalogue is revised every few years and is supplemented by directives from various government agencies. According to Chinese officials, it is a static document, intended as a snapshot of policies in place at a given time, subject to revision at the government's discretion, and thus may not fully reflect China's foreign investment policy after it is published. In December 2008, China also released an updated version of its Catalogue of Priority Industries for Foreign Investment in the Central-Western Regions, which outlines additional incentives to attract investment in targeted sectors to those parts of China.
The Foreign Investment Catalogue serves two functions. First, China intends for it to help foreign investors understand China's complex industrial policy by delineating sectors of the economy where foreign investment is "encouraged," "restricted," and "prohibited." In addition, the catalogue spells out some more specific restrictions in various sectors, like caps on foreign ownership and permissible types of investment. In many restricted sectors, foreign firms wishing to invest must form a joint venture with a Chinese company, restricting their equity to a minority share. In addition, the release of an updated catalogue, with State Council blessing, sends a signal to other relevant agencies that they should adopt measures to implement the new guidelines.
Investment in sectors not listed in the catalogue is considered permitted. China "encourages" investment in sectors where it believes it benefits from foreign assistance or technology. Investment is "restricted" in sectors that China deems do not meet the needs of its national economic development. China "prohibits" foreign investment in a number of sectors, including certain farming, mining, manufacturing, power, transportation, scientific research, education, and publishing and broadcast industries.
Problems with the Foreign Investment Catalogue
Foreign investors have expressed frustration that China does not publicly seek input before updating the Catalogue and offers no rationale for changes. In addition, Chinese regulators are not bound to follow the catalogue and instead maintain the flexibility to ignore its guidance and restrict or approve foreign investment for other reasons. Part of the problem is that the catalogue is intended only as a general guideline, not an exhaustive list of formal restrictions. Even in "encouraged" and permitted sectors, regulations apart from the Catalogue often specify additional restrictions on the specific forms of investment that are allowed. China may also adopt new regulations or make unannounced policy decisions that supersede the most recently published edition of the catalogue. Chinese officials have told the United States Government that China is not able to exhaustively catalogue all existing investment restrictions and requirements.
Contradictions between the Catalogue and other measures have also confused investors and added to the perception that investment guidelines do not provide a secure basis for business planning. Uncertainty as to which industries are being promoted and how long such designations will be valid undermines confidence in the stability and predictability of the investment climate. As a consequence, the practical implications of listing a sector in a given category are uncertain.
China’s Foreign Investment Review and Approval Process
According to the Interim Measures for the Administration of Examining and Approving Foreign Investment Projects, issued in October 2004 and still in effect, all proposed foreign investments in China must be submitted for "project verification" to NDRC or to provincial or local Development and Reform Commissions, depending on the sector and value of the investment. Project verification includes assessing the project's compliance with China's laws and regulations, its national security implications, and its economic development ramifications. In some cases, NDRC also solicits the opinions of relevant Chinese industrial regulators and "consulting agencies," which may include industry associations that represent domestic firms. The State Council also weighs in during the verification stage for high-value projects in "restricted" sectors.
Once project verification is complete, the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) conducts an "enterprise establishment verification," which certifies that the contract establishing the foreign investment conforms to China's laws and regulations. Foreign investors next apply for a business license from the State Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC), which allows the firm to operate. Once a license is obtained, the investor registers with China's tax and foreign exchange agencies. Greenfield investment projects must also seek approval from China's Environmental Protection Ministry and its Ministry of Land Resources. These ministries review projects for compliance with environmental and land use regulations, respectively.
Mergers and Acquisitions and the Anti-Monopoly Law
MOFCOM (or, depending on the sector and value of the investment, provincial or local Departments of Commerce) also reviews all proposed mergers and acquisitions (M&A) by a foreign investor. The Regulations Concerning Foreign Investors Acquiring Domestic Enterprises instruct regulators to consider an M&A's potential impact on "national economic security" when evaluating a transaction. The regulations also authorize MOFCOM to ensure that proposed sale price of a "prominent Chinese old brand" to a foreign investor has been accurately valued. Projects that result in "actual control" of a domestic enterprise in a "key industry" are also examined more closely.
China's Anti-Monopoly Law (AML) took effect in August 2008, and China is in the midst of drafting implementing regulations. The text of the law notes China will protect the "lawful activities" of state-regulated monopolies and does not clearly resolve whether state-owned enterprises (SOE) are otherwise subject to the law's competitive provisions. The law allows regulators to make decisions based on macroeconomic factors (e.g., social and employment goals) other than consumer welfare. The AML states that China will set up a national security review process for proposed inward investments, but this process has not yet been established.
China's courts have been reluctant to take AML cases involving China's largest SOEs. More than 70 percent of the mergers reviewed by MOFCOM since the AML went into effect have involved multinational firms. MOFCOM has reviewed 49 M&A transactions, approving 43 unconditionally and five with conditions. Only one case, Coca-Cola's bid to buy Chinese juice-maker Huiyuan, has been rejected by MOFCOM. All five M&A cases approved with conditions involved offshore transactions between foreign parties rather than transactions between Chinese companies.
AML implementation also suffers from a lack of decision-making transparency. MOFCOM decisions to block or conditionally clear proposed M&As are the only administrative decisions required to be publicized, so the majority of MOFCOM reviews have left no public record. MOFCOM's published decisions are brief and offer little substantive analysis.
Problems with China's Foreign Investment Review and Approval Process and the Anti-Monopoly Law
All proposed foreign investments in China are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This allows significant discretion on the part of Chinese regulators to impose unexplained restrictions on new investment projects, regardless of a given sector's designation in the Foreign Investment Catalogue and taking into account the interests of domestic competitors. This ad hoc system diminishes the transparency of China's investment regulations and contributes to anxiety among foreign investors by limiting their ability to predict whether proposed investments will be approved.
Investment Restrictions in "Vital Industries and Key Fields"
China limits private investment in "vital industries and key fields," defined by China's State Council as "industries concerning national security, major infrastructure and important mineral resources, industries that provide essential public goods and services, and key enterprises in pillar industries and high-tech industries." The December 2006 Guiding Opinion Concerning the Advancement of Adjustments of State Capital and the Restructuring of State-Owned Enterprises calls on China to consolidate and develop its state-owned economy, including enhancing its control and influence in "vital industries and key fields relating to national security and national economic lifelines."
The Chairman of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC) has since clarified that "vital industries and key fields" include, but are not limited to: aviation, coal, defense, electric power and the state grid, oil and petrochemicals, shipping, and telecommunications. "Pillar industries" include automotive, chemical, construction, electronic information, equipment manufacturing, iron and steel, nonferrous metal, science and technology, and exploration and design.
China's State Assets Law is intended to safeguard China's economic system, promote the "socialist market economy," fortify and develop the state-owned economy, and enable SOEs to play a leading role in China's economy, especially in "vital industries and key fields." The law requires China to adopt policies to encourage SOE concentration and dominance in industries vital to national security and "national economic security."
Additional Regulations that Could Restrict Foreign Investment
In addition to the measures outlined above, China has also adopted policies in specific sectors that appear designed to restrict foreign participation. For example, the State Council's 2006 Opinions on the Revitalization of the Industrial Machinery Manufacturing Industries call for China to expand the market share of domestic companies in 16 equipment manufacturing fields. Policy supports include preferential import duties on parts needed for research and development, encouraging domestic procurement of major technical equipment, a dedicated capital market financing fund for domestic firms, and a strict review of imports. The measure suggests China will implement controls on foreign investments in the sector, including requiring approval when foreign entities seek majority ownership or control of leading domestic firms.
In November 2009, China formalized policies in place since 2006 promoting indigenous innovation by establishing a national accreditation system for national indigenous innovation products. This accreditations system will be used to award preferences for qualified companies in government procurement. Many international firms fear this system will further restrict their access to Chinese government procurement contracts. Similar discriminatory practices occur at the provincial level. For example, Hubei Province officials have said they will exclude all foreign brand products from government procurement, regardless of their manufactured location.
Laws Governing Business Operations
China's Corporate Income Tax Law fixes corporate tax rates for both foreign and domestic firms at 25 percent. The law establishes two exceptions to the flat rate: one for qualified small-scale and thin profit companies, which pay 20 percent, and another to encourage investment by high-tech companies, which pay 15 percent. Preferential tax treatment applies to investments in agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, fisheries, and infrastructure.
China's Contract Law encourages contractual compliance by providing legal recourse, although enforcement of judgments continues to be a problem. Most contracts must be registered with the government. Contracts establishing a foreign-invested enterprise require government approval.
The Securities Law, which was amended in 2005, codifies and strengthens administrative regulations governing the underwriting and trading of corporate shares, as well as the activities of China's stock exchanges in Shanghai and Shenzhen. No wholly foreign-owned enterprise has yet issued shares on a Chinese exchange, though China's regulator has voiced support for this in the future.
Additional investment-related laws include: the Insurance Law, the Foreign Trade Law, the Law on Import and Export of Goods, the Arbitration Law, the Government Procurement Law, and the Labor Contract Law.
The following table lists China's most recent rankings by organizations that monitor economies' economic freedom, business regulations, and perceived level of corruption.
Transparency International Corruption Perceptions
Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal Economic Freedom
World Bank Ease of Doing Business
Conversion and Transfer Policies
To open and maintain foreign exchange accounts, foreign-invested enterprises must apply to China's State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE). SAFE determines the amount of foreign exchange the firm needs. Enterprises authorized to conduct current account transactions can retain foreign exchange equal to 50 percent of export earnings. Deposits above the limit SAFE sets must be converted to local currency.
Foreign exchange transactions on China's capital account require a case-by-case review, and approvals are tightly regulated. During the first part of 2009, SAFE reportedly refused to allow some American companies to repatriate their earnings. These restrictions eased in the second half of the year. Several foreign firms have noted difficulties in receiving government approval to bring in foreign capital to expand their businesses.
The Chinese government registers all commercial foreign debt and limits foreign firms' accumulated medium and long term debt from abroad to the difference between total investment and registered capital. Foreign firms must report their foreign exchange balance twice per year.
Expropriation and Compensation
Chinese law prohibits nationalization of foreign-invested enterprises except under "special" circumstances. Officials claim these circumstances include national security and obstacles to large civil engineering projects, but the law does not define the term. Chinese law requires compensation of expropriated foreign investments but does not describe the formula to be used in calculating the amount. Foreign investors have reported disappointment with compensation offers. China has not expropriated any U.S. investments since 1979, though the Department of State has notified Congress of several cases of concern.
Many sectors listed as "restricted" in the Foreign Investment Catalogue require local ownership. Furthermore, investors face the risk that the sector in which they have invested may be recategorized to prohibit foreign investment, leaving investors little legal recourse.
Investor-state disputes leading to arbitration are rare in China, and China has never lost an arbitration case resulting from an investment dispute. China is a member of the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, the New York Convention.
Formal commercial disputes between investors are heard in economic courts that fall under China's Supreme People's Court and at three levels in the provincial court system. These economic courts have jurisdiction over: contract and commercial disputes involving foreign parties; trade, maritime, intellectual property and insurance; and economic crimes, like theft and tax evasion. Foreign lawyers cannot act as attorneys in Chinese courts, but may observe proceedings. China also has an extensive administrative legal system, which adjudicates minor criminal offenses. China uses this system extensively to address intellectual property infringements, with limited results.
China's court system is not independent of the government, and the government often intervenes in disputes. Corruption may also influence local court decisions and local officials may disregard the judgments of domestic courts. Well-connected local business people are often in a better position to win court cases than foreign investors and reportedly use their connections to avoid prosecution for taking illegal actions against their former foreign partners. China's legal system rarely enforces foreign court judgments.
Chinese officials typically urge firms to resolve disputes through informal conciliation. If formal mediation is necessary, Chinese parties and the authorities typically promote arbitration over litigation. Many contracts prescribe arbitration by the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC). Some foreign parties have obtained favorable rulings from CIETAC, but difficulties in other cases have led other participants and panelists to question CIETAC's procedures and effectiveness. For contracts involving at least one foreign party, offshore arbitration may be adopted. Provinces and municipalities also have their own arbitration institutions.
Business disputes in China, whether between partners or competitors, are not always handled through the courts or arbitration. The Embassy has received reports of foreign partners being held hostage, threatened with violence, or arrested.
China's Enterprise Bankruptcy Law extends bankruptcy protection to both SOEs and private companies, including financial firms. The law stipulates that all insolvent enterprises will pay creditors first and use only assets not earmarked as credit guarantees to pay laid-off workers.
Performance Requirements and Incentives
China has committed to eliminate export performance, trade and foreign exchange balancing, and local content requirements in most sectors. China has also committed to enforce only technology transfer rules that do not violate World Trade Organization (WTO) standards on intellectual property and trade-related investment measures.
In practice, however, local officials and some regulators prefer investments that develop favored industries and support the local job market. Local authorities also operate with great autonomy from the central government. In addition, foreigners seeking to invest in "key sectors" that the government views as important to its economic development or national security face an array of often opaque regulations that limit their operations and may have the effect of imposing performance requirements. For example, Chinese regulators have pressured foreign firms in these sectors to disclose intellectual property content or license it to competitors, sometimes at below market rates. In many sectors where foreign investment is restricted, Chinese nationals must own a majority of the enterprise.
China offers investors a complex system of incentives at the national, regional, and local levels. In particular, it offers preferences for certain investments in sectors and regions it seeks to develop.
The Special Economic Zones (SEZ) of Shenzhen, Shantou, Zhuhai, Xiamen and Hainan, 14 coastal cities, hundreds of development zones and designated inland cities all court foreign investors with packages of reduced income taxes, resource and land use fees, and import/export duties, as well as priority treatment in obtaining basic infrastructure services. Many locales offer high-level support and services to businesses, including streamlined government approvals. Chinese authorities have also established a number of free ports and bonded zones.
China boasts numerous national science parks, many focused on commercializing research developed in Chinese universities. The parks provide infrastructure, management and funding support for start-ups across a variety of industries and welcome foreign firms. Foreign investors often must negotiate directly with authorities as benefits may not be conferred automatically. These packages also often stipulate export, local content, technology transfer, and other requirements. To achieve a unified national trade regime, as required by its WTO accession, China has indicated that it will decrease SEZ investment incentives over time.
Chinese visas, legal residency, and work permits are tightly regulated, and may inhibit investors' mobility. Foreign investors working through established law firms typically are able to meet the requirements.
Right to Private Ownership and Establishment
In China, all commercial enterprises require a license from the government. There is no broad right to establish a business. Disposition of an enterprise is also tightly regulated.
The principle law governing establishment of an enterprise is China's Administrative Permissions Law, which requires China to review proposed investments for conformity with Chinese laws and regulations, and is the legal basis for China's complex approval system for foreign investment. Apart from its legal regime, China makes liberal use of administrative regulations that restrict foreigners' ability to establish investments in some sectors.
Protection of Property Rights
The Chinese legal system mediates acquisition and disposition of property. Chinese courts have an inconsistent record in protecting the legal rights of foreigners.
All land in China is owned by the state, state-controlled entities, or rural collectives. Individuals and firms, including foreigners, can own and transfer long-term leases for land, structures, and personal property, subject to many restrictions. To obtain land-use rights, the land user must sign a land-grant contract with the local land authority and pay a land-grant fee up front. The grantee will enjoy a fixed land-grant term and must use the land for the purpose specified in the land-grant contract. The maximum term of a land grant ranges from 40 years for commercial usage, 50 years for industrial purposes, and 70 years for residential use. China's Property Law stipulates that residential property rights will be automatically renewed while commercial and industrial grants shall be renewed absent a conflicting public interest. A number of foreign investors have seen their land-use rights revoked as neighborhoods are slated by the government for development. Investors report compensation in these cases has been nominal.
China's Securities Law defines debtor and guarantor rights and allows mortgages of certain types of property and other tangible assets, including long-term leases as described above. Important areas of the law remain unclear, such as how to effect transfer of property under foreclosure. Chinese commercial banks have successfully repossessed vehicles from delinquent borrowers, and banks are allowed to foreclose on owner-occupied residences. Foreigners can buy non-performing debt through state-owned asset management firms, but bureaucratic hurdles limit their ability to liquidate assets.
China acceded to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty in 2007. China is also a member of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, Madrid Trademark Convention, Universal Copyright Convention, and Geneva Phonograms Convention, among other conventions.
China has updated laws and regulations to comply with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), as required by its WTO membership. The United States in 2007 requested WTO dispute settlement consultations with China on IPR protection and enforcement issues. The WTO panel found in favor of the United States in January 2009 on two of three U.S. claims that China’s IPR regime is inconsistent with China’s obligations under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).
A recent amendment to China's Patent Law came into effect on October 1, 2009. The law now provides for the compulsory licensing of patents if, after three years from the grant of a patent or four years from the filing of a patent application, the patent holder, "without proper justification," is found not to have exploited the patent "sufficiently," or if the patent use is found to restrict competition.
Industry associations representing software, entertainment, and consumer goods continue to report high levels of piracy in China. The Business Software Alliance (BSA) estimated that 82 percent of the business software that was used in China in 2007 was pirated, the same levels found in a 2006 study. At the same time, because business software use grew, the value of the pirated software used in China grew from $5.4 billion to $6.6 billion over the same period, according to BSA statistics. Consumer goods companies report that as much as 20 percent of their products in Chinese markets are counterfeits. Online copyright violations are pervasive.
In general, criminal penalties for infringement are seldom applied, while administrative sanctions are typically non-transparent and so weak as to lack a deterrent effect. Civil sanctions also tend to be of limited effect. Trademark and copyright violations are blatant and widespread. There are widespread technology transfer practices that are often predatory in nature. Chinese companies are increasingly found squatting on the trademarks, company names, and design patents of well-established companies, even companies with household names. Such squatting practices are often legal in China, particularly when they occur where a company has declined to obtain registration of its rights in China in a timely fashion.
Significant regional differences exist in infringement and enforcement, with some areas showing higher levels of protection of IPR and others apparently offering safe harbors to local counterfeiters and pirates. While many Chinese officials are increasing enforcement efforts, violations also generally continue to outpace enforcement. Lack of coordination among various government agencies also continues to hamper many enforcement efforts.
There has been some limited progress in terms of cooperation between industry and enforcement agencies. In August 2009, a Chinese court jailed four individuals for their role in spreading a bootleg version of Microsoft's Windows XP software. China has stepped up coordination with foreign enforcement agencies in cases involving international organized crime, and in 2008 Chinese courts successfully prosecuted several major counterfeiters caught as a result of joint international enforcement efforts. China established IPR law centers at Beijing University, Tsinghua University, and People's University, among other institutions, and dispatched Chinese IPR policymakers, enforcement officials, and legal professionals to study other countries' intellectual property enforcement techniques. China has also announced it will begin a pilot program that will unify the trials of civil, administrative and criminal intellectual property (IP) cases under a dedicated IP court and will study the feasibility and necessity of setting up an IP appeals court. China began establishing specialized IPR complaint centers in provincial capitals and other large cities in the spring of 2006, and now operates a national network of 50 such centers.
Transparency of the Regulatory System
China's legal and regulatory system is complex and contradictory, and generally lacks consistent enforcement. Foreign investors rank inconsistent and arbitrary regulatory enforcement and lack of transparency among the major problems in China's market, particularly outside of coastal regions.
The State Council's Legislative Affairs Office (SCLAO) has issued instructions to Chinese agencies to publish all foreign trade and investment related laws, regulations, rules, and policy measures in the MOFCOM Gazette, in accordance with China's WTO accession commitment. China said it would also help WTO members and enterprises understand its rules. However, foreign investors report that Chinese regulators at times rely on unpublished internal guidelines that impact their businesses.
SCLAO also posts an increasing number of draft administrative regulations (which are issued by the State Council and have nearly the legal force of laws passed by the National People's Congress) on its website, as well as some draft departmental rules from various ministries and agencies with economic responsibilities, but the posting of such draft rules is not comprehensive. Central government ministries agencies have increased the number of draft trade and economic-related departmental rules made available on their own ministry websites for public comment, including from foreign parties, but comment periods can be extremely brief and the impact of public comments on final regulations is not clear, as some rules are published for comment in final form. Some agencies release draft regulations only to certain favored enterprises, usually domestic enterprises, or have allowed enterprises to read but not retain drafts. Comments do not become part of a public record.
Efficient Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Bank loans continue to provide the vast majority of credit in China, accounting for roughly 75 percent of formal financial sector financing. Nevertheless, with the development of capital markets, venture capital and private equity, and stock exchanges, that percentage has fallen from 85 percent in 2007. The People's Bank of China (PBOC), China's central bank, continues to maintain a floor on lending rates that is 2-3 percentage points above the ceiling on deposit rates, thereby maintaining a healthy profit margin on bank loans. This raises borrowing costs for the most creditworthy borrowers, which are usually large firms, both state and foreign-owned. Commercial banks are increasingly being urged by regulators to limit financing to projects that are not in compliance with environmental regulations. The lack of adequate credit information on borrowers also contributes to inefficient credit allocation. Small- and medium-sized firms experience the most difficulty obtaining bank financing, instead financing investments through retained earnings or informal channels.
The ratio of non-performing loans (NPL) in China has dropped steadily in recent years. NPLs system-wide dropped to about 1.7 percent by the third quarter of 2009 from 8 percent in 2006, according to PBOC statistics, although many analysts warn of possible future increases in the NPL rate stemming from 2009's large flow of new bank lending.
Non-bank financing has expanded over the last few years. Regulators increasingly support the listing on domestic exchanges of shares in both state-owned and private Chinese firms. However, stock market declines led regulators to limit the number of new issuances on China's stock markets in 2008-09. Although new issuances resumed in July 2009, in total only 250 billion renminbi (RMB) of capital was raised in the first eleven months of 2009, with just RMB 95 billion of this coming from initial public offerings, compared to almost RMB 438 billion in 2007. In comparison, corporate bond issuance stood at over RMB 793 billion in 2009. Beginning January 2009, listed Chinese banks were again allowed to trade exchange-listed bonds in an open-ended pilot program, whereas since 1997, they had been limited to trading in the interbank market.
Most foreign portfolio investment in Chinese companies occurs on foreign exchanges, where investors buy and sell shares in Chinese firms, primarily in New York (N-shares) and Hong Kong (H-shares). In addition, China permits limited access to renminbi-denominated A-share markets for portfolio investment by foreign institutional investors. Through its Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) program, China had granted QFII status to 87 foreign firms through August 2009.
Competition from State-Owned Enterprises
China's leading SOEs benefit from preferential government policies and practices aimed at developing bigger and stronger national champions. SOEs enjoy administrative monopolies over the most essential economic inputs (hydrocarbons, finance, telecoms, electricity) and considerable power in the markets for others (steel, minerals). SOEs have long enjoyed preferential access to credit. Provincial governments have reportedly used their power to deny operating licenses to persuade reluctant owners to sell out to bigger state-owned suitors.
China has two sovereign wealth funds: China Investment Corporation (CIC) and SAFE. CIC generally is more open and transparent than SAFE, and is overseen by a board of directors and a board of supervisors. SAFE is a government agency that reports directly to the PBOC. The SAFE Administrator serves concurrently as a PBOC Vice Governor.
The portion of SAFE funds invested domestically is very small. CIC's only domestic investments are as a financial holding company for the state-owned portions of commercialized national-level bank and securities companies. They also have some investments in Chinese companies' non-mainland listings (for example through the Hong Kong H-share market). CIC and SAFE otherwise play little role in the local economy.
Sovereign wealth funds are not required to submit their books to independent audit, nor are they required by law to publish annual reports. CIC published its first annual report, for the year 2008, in July 2009.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a new and still relatively unknown concept for most Chinese, though CSR awareness appears to be rising among younger and more-affluent consumers. However, it is difficult to pinpoint any change in consumption behavior due to CSR considerations. The 2008 Sichuan earthquake led many Chinese to recognize the contributions of enterprises to earthquake relief efforts, and there are an increasingly large number of press reports about the importance of labor and environmental CSR commitments by enterprises. Large Chinese SOEs and large foreign-invested enterprises tend to follow generally accepted CSR principles, and most report annually on their CSR policies and achievements.
The risk of political violence directed at foreign companies operating in China remains small. Some violent but unconnected protests have occurred in areas throughout China, but such mass incidents generally involved local residents protesting corrupt officials, environmental and food safety concerns, and confiscated property. Large-scale ethnic riots in the province of Xinjiang erupted in July 2009, leaving nearly 200 dead and 1600 injured, and leading the Chinese government to cut off Internet connections in the province. Tibet has also witnessed ethnic violence in recent years, but political violence in China's other regions remains low.
Corruption remains endemic in China. Surveys show that concerns about corruption limit U.S. firms' investment in China. Sectors requiring extensive government approval are most affected, including banking, finance, government procurement, and construction. The lack of an independent press as well as the fact that all bodies responsible for conducting corruption investigations are all controlled by the Communist Party hamper anti-corruption efforts. Senior officials and family members are suspected of using connections to avoid investigation or prosecution for alleged misdeeds.
According to Chinese law, giving or accepting a bribe is a serious crime. Accepting a bribe of greater than RMB100,000 is punishable by 10 years to life in prison, or death in "especially serious" circumstances; accepting a RMB 50,000 to 100,000 bribe is punishable by five years to life; RMB 5,000 to 50,000 gets one to seven years; less than RMB 5,000 is punishable by up to two years.
Offering a bribe merits five years' punishment. For serious circumstances or "heavy losses" to state interests, the punishment can range up to 10 years. "Especially serious" circumstances lead to imprisonment from 10 years to life.
It is not, however, a crime under Chinese law to bribe a foreign official. While a bribe denoted as such could not be deducted from taxes as a business expenses, practically speaking, a Chinese firm could mis-categorize a bribe and deduct it from revenues.
Three government bodies and one Communist Party organ are responsible for combating corruption. The Supreme People's Procuratorate and the Ministry of Public Security investigate criminal violations of anti-corruption laws, while the Ministry of Supervision and the Communist Party Discipline Inspection Committee enforce ethics guidelines and party discipline. Corrupt officials are first investigated by the Discipline Inspection Committee, which gathers evidence outside of the judicial process and strips the official of Party membership before deciding whether to hand the case over to the judicial system. China's National Audit Office also inspects accounts of state-owned enterprises and government entities.
China ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005 and participates in Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) anti-corruption initiatives, but has not signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery.
Bilateral Investment Agreements
China has bilateral investment agreements with 124 countries. As of June 1, 2009, 92 of these agreements had entered into force. China's treaty partners include Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, South Korea, Austria, and Thailand, among others. China's bilateral investment agreements cover expropriation, arbitration, most-favored-nation treatment, and repatriation of investment proceeds, and are generally regarded as weaker than the investment treaties the United States seeks to negotiate. In 2008, the United States and China began negotiation of a bilateral investment treaty. China has a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States.
Overseas Private Investment Corporation and Other Insurance Programs
The United States suspended Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) programs in the aftermath of China's violent crackdown on Tiananmen Square demonstrators in June 1989. OPIC honors outstanding political risk insurance contracts. The Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, an organization affiliated with the World Bank, provides political risk insurance for investors in China. Some foreign commercial insurance companies also offer political risk insurance, as does the People's Insurance Company of China.
Human resource issues remain a major concern for American companies operating in China. Difficulties in hiring appropriately skilled labor, navigating new and comprehensive labor and social safety net laws, the restriction on the mobility of workers, and the lack of independent trade unions combine to create a challenging environment for foreign-invested enterprises.
The cost and availability of labor has varied since the onset of the 2008 global financial crisis. The large surplus of rural workers laid off or furloughed during the crisis appears essentially to have been reabsorbed. Some of south China's manufacturing centers currently experience a localized labor shortage. This is likely due to many workers having left to seek employment in other cities or other parts of China. The remaining workers have shown greater selectivity than in the past, with their demands for higher wages and willingness to turn down undesirable job offers also contributing to a perceived labor shortage. Skilled workers remain in short supply.
Independent trade unions are illegal in China. Officially sanctioned trade unions must affiliate with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which is an arm of the Communist Party. It is illegal for employers to oppose efforts to establish ACFTU unions. While worker protests and work stoppages occur regularly, the right to strike is not protected in law.
China has not ratified core International Labor Organization conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining, but has ratified conventions prohibiting child labor and employment discrimination. Apart from a lack of freedom of association and the right to strike, Chinese labor laws generally meet international labor standards. However, enforcement of existing labor regulations is poor.
Foreign-Trade Zones/Free Ports
China's principal duty-free import/export zones are in Dalian, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Hainan. Besides these official duty-free zones, numerous free trade and economic development zones and open cities offer similar privileges and benefits to foreign investors.
Foreign Direct Investment Statistics
Some mainland companies utilize "roundtrip" investment via subsidiaries in the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau in order to obtain incentives available only to foreign investors. Analysts have estimated that mainland Chinese funds flowing through Hong Kong may account for 10-30 percent of Hong Kong's total realized direct investment in China. Hong Kong and Macau statistics are further skewed because many Taiwan firms invest through them to avoid scrutiny from Taiwan authorities. Indeed, some observers estimate accumulated stock of FDI inflows from Taiwan is actually two to three times the amount formally recorded. The data listing investments originating in the Virgin Islands is similarly problematic.
Chinese FDI data do not include much of the high dollar value minority equity stakes that American financial services firms have taken in major Chinese lenders. In addition, China does not classify reinvested locally-generated profits as new investment.
Foreign Direct Investment Flows for 2008 (Top 10 Sources of Origin)
|Country/Economy of Origin||Millions of U.S. Dollars|
|British Virgin Islands||15,954|
Cumulative* Foreign Direct Investment for 2008 by Selected Source of Origin
|Country/Economy of Origin||Millions of U.S. Dollars|
|British Virgin Islands||90,100|
Flow of Outbound Direct Investment for 2008 (Top 10 Destinations)
|Destination||Millions of U.S. Dollars|
|British Virgin Islands||2,104|
Stock of Outbound Direct Investment for 2008 (Top 10 Destinations)
|Destination||Millions of U.S. Dollars|
|British Virgin Islands||10,477|
FDI as a Percentage of Gross Domestic Product
According to UNCTAD, China's FDI stocks equaled 8.7 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2008; China's FDI inflows equaled 2.5 percent of GDP.
Selected Major Foreign Direct Investments by U.S. and Other Nations' Companies
|Company||Estimated Current Value in Billions of U.S. Dollars|
|United Technologies||1.0 (including Hong Kong)|