Parallel to the large-scale infrastructure development that China is spending on in countries along its much-vaunted Belt and Road trade routes, the process of “opening up” is moving at a fast pace.
In a ground-breaking move, the Foreign Investment Law was approved by the country’s highest political body, the National People’s Congress (NPC) on Friday. This new law replaces three previous ones.
The message for reform was clear from the vote at the end of the country’s annual Two Sessions political season this week: 2 929 yays, eight nays and eight abstentions.
The law will come into effect on January 1 next year.
State news agency Xinhua stated that the government would protect the intellectual property rights of foreign investors and foreign-invested enterprises.
In his report on the 2019 draft plan for national economic and social development delivered to the NPC earlier this month, Premier Li Keqiang laid out plans to attract foreign investment to China.
“We will steadily open the financial sector, attract greater inflows of long-term funding and give play to the effective role of long-term international capital. We will draw up a catalogue of industries for foreign investment, attract investment in a broader range of sectors and encourage multinational companies to invest in China.”
The creation and promotion of what China calls free trade zones will facilitate much of the sought- after foreign investment through liberalised market conditions in particular areas.
In his report Li said: “We will see an expansion of the China (Shanghai) pilot free trade zone and support the nationwide application of entry and exit policies developed in pilot free trade zones and pilot reform zones for comprehensive innovation.”
In his press conference on Friday Li attracted much attention around the new legislation. He said: “‘Opening up’ is China’s fundamental state policy. It has delivered real benefits to its people and the world. So why not go ahead with it? This piece of legislation has been designed to use legal means to protect the rights and interests of foreign investors and attract more foreign investment in China.”
He said they would establish a mechanism to assist foreign investment and through the law, enhance the protection of intellectual property.
China has a negative list which stipulates sectors where foreign investors may not operate.
“We will release a new, revised negative list which will be shorter and we will further shorten the negative list,” explained Li.
Our country’s investments in China are of interest.
The most obvious is publishing group Naspers’s success with its relationship to Tencent, which operates the massive WeChat instant messaging service.
Also of much interest is Sasol’s operations in Nanjing, where the South African fuel company is working on an alkoxylation plant expected to be completed this year.
The foreign investment law will bring some challenges to Chinese business as foreign skills come into the country.
Business in the country will have to become innovative to compete.
Vice-president of the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce Zheng Yuewen told China Daily that the competition would be a “strong driver” for companies to develop core technologies in order to survive.
* Wendyl Martin is a participant in the 2019 China Africa Press Centre.