Xi Jinping pledges level playing field for global investors
After hearing foreign business leaders' gripes, president says companies' rights to be protected
President Xi Jinping used an annual Asian economic forum to reassure global investors that China's economy - the world's second-biggest - would continue to expand and that it would ensure their lawful rights and business interests.
At an hour-long meeting with 32 foreign and domestic business leaders on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan province yesterday, Xi pledged to provide a level playing field for all market players and make the domestic market more open and attractive.
An ultra-high speed of growth won't be able to be sustained," Xi said. "We don't want it and we cannot do it either. But a fairly high speed of growth can be maintained
Xi also said China would "continue to open up wider to the outside world".
Business leaders, including five from Japan, complained to Xi about red tape and restrictions on investment that favour Chinese state firms, and outright discrimination because of political problems. Xi told them: "China will endeavour to build a more favourable environment for investors … and will protect the lawful rights and interests of foreign-invested companies."
Beijing faces rising regional tension on many fronts, including a territorial dispute with Japan over uninhabited islets in the East China Sea. Some foreign players have complained about a souring business environment and more investment barriers. Technology giant Apple was forced to apologise to mainland consumers for alleged problems in its service warranties.
"The very important message he meant to send was that he wants to meet, hear views and learn first-hand the frustrations and needs" of multinationals, said Laurence Brahm, author of Zhu Rongji and the Transformation of Modern China.
Leaders of state-owned enterprises, including Li Xiaolin , daughter of ex-premier Li Peng and head of China Power International Development, and the chiefs of shipping giant Cosco and distiller Kweichow Moutai, as well as foreign leaders attended the meeting.
Pepsico president Zein Abdalla complained about limits on foreign investment in agriculture. He urged Beijing to promote transparency and fairness, encourage foreign investment in more sectors, reform administrative approval systems and grant more national treatment to multinational companies.
"The better we understand the policy directions and the politics of decision-making in China, the better we can plan to commit resources and continue to build successful businesses and contribute to China's ongoing success," he said.
Koji Miyahara, of Japanese shipping line Nippon Yusen Kabushiki Kaisha, mentioned "unpleasant episodes" last year, in an apparent reference to the East China Sea row, and said: "We need to forge closer relations." Japanese businesses stood ready to help achieve that, he said.
Liu Ligang, an economist at Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, said: "Xi has differed from his predecessor Hu Jintao , who seldom met multinational industry leaders, in showing that he's more open to overseas investment."
Additional reporting by Associated Press, Mandy Zuo