First UPS, then Tesla, now ExxonMobil. China tells another American titan it’s open for business despite the trade war

Chinese premier promises more reform as Beijing continues to try to lure foreign investment

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 9:07pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2018, 9:07pm

Beijing has again sought to assure foreign companies that it is open for business, with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang promising equal treatment for all just a day after ExxonMobil signed a multibillion-dollar deal for a project in southern China.

Li offered the assurances when he met ExxonMobil chief executive Darren Woods in Beijing on Friday to discuss a US$10 billion investment plan in Guangdong, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

He called on the company to expand investment in China, and said all countries should safeguard free trade.

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A day earlier, the American oil and gas giant said it had signed a preliminary deal to build a petrochemical complex and invest in a liquefied natural gas terminal in China. It gave no further details.

German chemical giant BASF is building a plant in Zhanjiang that it will wholly own. The complex is expected to be completed by 2030, employ 2,000 staff and use 1,000 external contractors.

The meeting between Li and Woods is the latest in a string of high-profile attempts by Beijing to woo foreign investment as a trade war with Washington show no signs of abating.

In July, Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan met Tesla chief Elon Musk and in June Chinese President Xi Jinping told American executives from UPS, Pfizer, Cargill, Prologis and Goldman Sachs that China’s market would remain open to foreign investors.

Foreign businesses have complained about the lack of access to China’s markets and the forced transfer and theft of core technology.

On Friday, Li promised further reform and opening up.

“Treating foreign companies equally and providing a fair business environment for competition is the responsibility of the Chinese government,” Li was quoted as saying.

“We shall make things more convenient for foreign companies seeking to invest in China.

“ExxonMobil has had a long investment history in China. You should know fully well that China is a huge market that can generate reasonable returns for investors.”

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But observers and sources said the US business community was frustrated by the lack of progress on market reform.

In a sign on Friday that trade tensions were not about to ease, US President Donald Trump said his administration intended to go ahead with tariffs on another US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports, with duties on a further US$267 billion a possibility.

China renewed vows this week to retaliate should the US go through with the latest round of proposed tariffs.