In 2021, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was the number two global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) destination, behind the United States. As the world’s second-largest economy, with a large consumer base and integrated supply chains, China’s economic recovery following COVID-19 reassured investors and contributed to high FDI and portfolio investments. The PRC implemented major legislation in 2021, including the Data Security Law in September and the Personal Information Protection Law in November.
China remains a relatively restrictive investment environment for foreign investors due to restrictions in key sectors and regulatory uncertainties. Obstacles include ownership caps and requirements to form joint venture (JV) partnerships with local firms, industrial policies to develop indigenous capacity or technological self-sufficiency, and pressures to transfer technology as a prerequisite to gaining market access. New data and financial rules announced in 2021 also created significant uncertainty surrounding the financial regulatory environment. The PRC’s pandemic-related visa and travel restrictions significantly affected foreign businesses operations, increasing labor and input costs. An assertive Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and emphasis on national companies and self-reliance has heightened foreign investors’ concerns about the pace of economic reforms.
Key developments in 2021 included:
- The Rules for Security Reviews on Foreign Investments came into effect January 18, expanding PRC vetting of foreign investment that may affect national security.
- The National People’s Congress (NPC) adopted the Anti-Foreign Sanctions Law on June 10.
- The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) issued draft revisions to its Cybersecurity Review Measures to broaden PRC approval authority over PRC companies’ overseas listings on July 10.
- China formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on September 16.
- On November 1, the Personal Information Protection Law (PIPL) went into effect and China formally applied to join the Digital Economy Partnership Agreement (DEPA).
- On December 23, President Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. The law prohibits importing goods into the United States that are mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part with forced labor in the PRC, especially from Xinjiang.
- On December 27, the National Reform and Development Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) updated its foreign FDI investment “negative lists.”
While PRC pronouncements of greater market access and fair treatment of foreign investment are welcome, details and effective implementation are needed to ensure equitable treatment.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2021||66 of 180||http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview|
|Global Innovation Index||2021||12 of 131||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2020||USD 123.8||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2020||USD 10,550||http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
3. Legal Regime
4. Industrial Policies
5. Protection of Property Rights
6. Financial Sector
7. State-Owned Enterprises
China has approximately 150,000 wholly-owned SOEs, of which 50,000 are owned by the central government, and the remainder by local or provincial governments. SOEs account for 30 to 40 percent of total gross domestic product (GDP) and about 20 percent of China’s total employment. Non-financial SOE assets totaled roughly USD 30 trillion. SOEs can be found in all sectors of the economy, from tourism to heavy industries. State funds are spread throughout the economy and the state may also be the majority or controlling shareholder in an ostensibly private enterprise. China’s leading SOEs benefit from preferential government policies aimed at developing bigger and stronger “national champions.” SOEs enjoy preferential access to essential economic inputs (land, hydrocarbons, finance, telecoms, and electricity) and exercise considerable power in markets like steel and minerals. SOEs also have long enjoyed preferential access to credit and the ability to issue publicly traded equity and debt. A comprehensive, published list of all PRC SOEs does not exist.
PRC officials have indicated China intends to utilize OECD guidelines to improve the SOEs independence and professionalism, including relying on Boards of Directors that are free from political influence. However, analysts believe minor reforms will be ineffective if SOE administration and government policy remain intertwined, and PRC officials make minimal progress in primarily changing the regulation and business conduct of SOEs. SOEs continue to hold dominant shares in their respective industries, regardless of whether they are strategic, which may further restrain private investment in the economy. Among central SOEs managed by the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (SASAC), senior management positions are mainly filled by senior party members who report directly to the CCP, and double as the company’s party secretary. SOE executives often outrank regulators in the CCP rank structure, which minimizes the effectiveness of regulators in implementing reforms. While SOEs typically pursue commercial objectives, the lack of management independence and the controlling ownership interest of the state make SOEs de facto arms of the government, subject to government direction and interference. SOEs are rarely the defendant in legal disputes, and when they are, they almost always prevail. U.S. companies often complain about the lack of transparency and objectivity in commercial disputes with SOEs.
Since 2012, China has undergone a large-scale anti-corruption campaign, with investigations reaching into all sectors of the government, military, and economy. CCP General Secretary Xi labeled endemic corruption an “existential threat” to the very survival of the Party. In 2018, the CCP restructured its Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) to become a state organ, calling the new body the National Supervisory Commission-Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (NSC-CCDI). The NSC-CCDI wields the power to investigate any public official. From 2012 to 2021, the NSC-CCDI claimed it investigated roughly four million cases. In the first three quarters of 2021, the NSC-CCDI investigated 470,000 cases and disciplined 414,000 individuals, of whom 22 were at or above the provincial or ministerial level. Since 2014, the PRC’s overseas fugitive-hunting campaign, called “Operation Skynet,” has led to the capture of more than 9,500 fugitives suspected of corruption who were living in other countries, including over 2,200 CCP members and government employees. In most cases, the PRC did not notify host countries of these operations. In 2021, the government reported apprehending 1,273 alleged fugitives and recovering approximately USD 2.64 billion through this program.
In March 2021, the CCP Amendment 11 to the Criminal Law, which increased the maximum punishment for acts of corruption committed by private entities to life imprisonment, from the previous maximum of 15-year imprisonment, took effect. In June 2020 the CCP passed a law on Administrative Discipline for Public Officials, continuing efforts to strengthen supervision over individuals working in the public sector. The law enumerates targeted illicit activities such as bribery and misuse of public funds or assets for personal gain. Anecdotal information suggests anti-corruption measures are applied inconsistently and discretionarily. For example, to fight commercial corruption in the medical sector, the health authorities issued “blacklists” of firms and agents involved in commercial bribery, including several foreign companies. While central government leadership has welcomed increased public participation in reporting suspected corruption at lower levels, direct criticism of central leadership or policies remains off-limits and is seen as an existential threat to China’s political and social stability. China ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption in 2005 and participates in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and OECD anti-corruption initiatives. China has not signed the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery, although PRC officials have expressed interest in participating in the OECD Working Group on Bribery as an observer. Corruption Investigations are led by government entities, and civil society has a limited scope in investigating corruption beyond reporting suspected corruption to central authorities.
Liaoning set up a provincial watchdog, known as the “Liaoning Business Environment Development Department” to inspect government disciplines and provide a mechanism for the public to report corruption and misbehaviors through a “government service platform.” In 2021, Liaoning reported handling 8,091 cases and recovering approximately USD 290 million in ill-gotten gains by government agencies and SOEs through this program.
10. Political and Security Environment
Foreign companies operating in China face a growing risk of political violence, most recently due to U.S.-China political tensions. PRC authorities have broad authority to prohibit travelers from leaving China and have imposed “exit bans” to compel U.S. citizens to resolve business disputes, force settlement of court orders, or facilitate PRC investigations. U.S. citizens, including children, not directly involved in legal proceedings or wrongdoing have also been subject to lengthy exit bans to compel family members or colleagues to cooperate with Chinese courts or investigations. Exit bans are often issued without notification to the foreign citizen or without clear legal recourse to appeal the exit ban decision. A 2020 independent report presented evidence that since 2018, more than 570,000 Uyghurs were implicated in forced labor picking cotton. There was also reporting that Xinjiang’s polysilicon and solar panel industries are connected to forced labor. In 2021, PRC citizens, with the encouragement of the PRC government, boycotted companies that put out statements on social media affirming they do not use Xinjiang cotton in their supply chain. Some landlords forced companies to close retail outlets during this boycott due to fears of being associated with boycotted companies. The ongoing PRC crackdown on virtually all opposition voices in Hong Kong and continued attempts by PRC organs to intimidate Hong Kong’s judges threatens the judicial independence of Hong Kong’s courts – a fundamental pillar for Hong Kong’s status as an international hub for investment into and out of China. Apart from Hong Kong, the PRC government has also previously encouraged protests or boycotts of products from countries like the United States, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, Norway, Canada, and the Philippines, in retaliation for unrelated policy decisions such as the boycott campaigns against Korean retailer Lotte in 2016 and 2017 in response to the ROK government’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD); and the PRC’s retaliation against Canadian companies and citizens for Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
For U.S. companies operating in China, finding, developing, and retaining domestic talent at the management and skilled technical staff levels remain challenging for foreign firms, especially as labor costs, including salaries and inputs continue to rise. COVID-19 control and related travel measures have also made it difficult to recruit or retain foreign staff. Foreign companies also complain of difficulty navigating China’s labor and social insurance laws, including local implementation guidelines. Compounding the complexity, due to ineffective enforcement of labor laws and high mandatory social insurance contributions, many PRC domestic employers and employees will not sign formal employment contracts, putting foreign firms at a disadvantage. The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is the only union recognized under PRC law. Establishing independent trade unions is illegal. The law allows for “collective bargaining,” but in practice, focuses solely on collective wage negotiations. The Trade Union Law gives the ACFTU, a CCP organ chaired by a Politburo member, control over all union organizations and activities, including enterprise-level unions. ACFTU enterprise unions require employers to pay mandatory fees, often through the local tax bureau, equaling a negotiated minimum of 0.5 percent to a standard two percent of total payroll. While labor laws do not protect the right to strike, “spontaneous” protests and work stoppages occur. Official forums for mediation, arbitration, and other mechanisms of alternative dispute resolution often are ineffective in resolving labor disputes. Even when an arbitration award or legal judgment is obtained, getting local authorities to enforce judgments is problematic.
The PRC has not ratified the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on freedom of association, collective bargaining, or forced labor, but it has ratified conventions prohibiting child labor and employment discrimination. Uyghurs and members of other minority groups are subjected to forced labor in Xinjiang and throughout China via PRC government-facilitated labor transfer programs.
In 2021, the U.S government updated its business advisory on risks for businesses and individuals with exposure to entities engaged in forced labor and other human rights abuses linked to Xinjiang. This update highlights the extent of the PRC’s state-sponsored forced labor and surveillance taking place amid its ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. The Advisory stresses that businesses and individuals that do not exit supply chains, ventures, and/or investments connected to Xinjiang could run a high risk of violating U.S. law. In fiscal year 2021, CBP issued four (WROs) against PRC goods produced with forced labor. The Commerce Department added PRC commercial and government entities to its Entity List for their complicity in human rights abuses and the Department of Treasury sanctioned Wang Junzheng, the Secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) and Chen Mingguo, Director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB) to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang. In June 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor added polysilicon for China to an update of the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. The Department of Labor has listed 18 goods as produced by forced labor in China. Some PRC firms continued to employ North Korean workers in violation of UN Security Council sanctions. Pursuant to UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR) 2397, all DPRK nationals earning income, subject to limited exceptions, were required to have been repatriated to the DPRK by 22 December 2019.
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
|Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or International Source of Data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
|Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD)||2020||$14,724,435||2021||$14,343,000||www.worldbank.org/en/country|
|Foreign Direct Investment||Host Country Statistical source*||USG or international statistical source||USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions)||2020||$90,190||2020||$123,875||BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ https://apps.bea.gov/international/
|Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions)||2020||$80,048||2020||$37,995||BEA data available at
|Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP||2020||$16.6%||2020||13%||UNCTAD data available at
|Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||$3,214,115||100%||Total Outward||$2,580,658||100%|
|China, P.R., Hong Kong||$1,726,212||53.7%||China, P.C., Hong Kong||$1,438,531||55.7%|
|British Virgin Islands||$403,903||12.5%||Cayman Islands||$457,027||17.7%|
|Japan||$193,338||6.0%||British Virgin Islands||$155,645||6%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.