In a meeting with a group of Chinese and international business leaders, the new Chinese president also pledged to step up protection of intellectual property rights, a key concern of global companies who say they are subject to pervasive intellectual property theft, corporate espionage and hacking in China aimed at stealing their technology and business secrets.
In an hour-long meeting, Xi addressed more than two dozen top executives from large Chinese and multinational companies on the sidelines of a business forum in southern China and gave some of them a chance to read prepared statements.
Zein Abdalla, the president of PepsiCo who was tasked with presenting the views of U.S. businesses operating in China, clearly outlined the heightened dissatisfaction with China’s policy environment.
“One thing many foreign companies do share is a rising concern about increasing restrictions on the types of investments we can make,” Abdalla told Xi.
“We hope the new Chinese government can continue to push forward opening up and encouraging foreign investment in more sectors, reform the administrative approval system so businesses will find it easier to enter markets, and operate freely and build a more level playing field for foreign investors relative to domestic companies.”
Davide Cucino, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said his group welcomed Xi’s comments, but added that “we have heard similar words from previous leaders in recent years while the market access environment in China has not noticeably improved for foreign companies.”
Abdalla singled out agriculture as an area where PepsiCo and other multinationals faced increasing restrictions as Beijing focuses on building up domestic agricultural businesses.
A survey of U.S. businesses in China published by the American Chamber of Commerce in China late last month showed a large drop in the number of companies that felt China’s business investment environment was improving, from 43 percent a year ago to just 28 percent this year.
Despite heightened pessimism over the issues outlined by Abdalla, more than three-quarters of the 325 U.S. companies surveyed remained optimistic about how their own companies would perform in China over the next two years.
The Chinese market represents $250 billion to $300 billion in exports and sales for U.S. businesses, according to estimates from the U.S.-China Business Council (USCBC), which has also observed growing concern from U.S. businesses in China.
About 10 percent of U.S. businesses surveyed by the USCBC had stopped or delayed a planned project in China over the past year because of market and investment barriers.