China 'will maintain business-friendly climate'

It was a hazy day in Beijing yesterday ahead of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which starts today, and where economic issues are likely to dominate. China is likely to set a lower growth target and implement difficult cuts to
It was a hazy day in Beijing yesterday ahead of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which starts today, and where economic issues are likely to dominate. China is likely to set a lower growth target and implement difficult cuts to industrial overcapacity, which could lead to mass job losses.PHOTO: REUTERS

Foreign investors can expect healthy business environment despite economic woes: Official

China is committed to maintaining a healthy business environment for overseas investors, despite economic headwinds and the prospect of mass layoffs.

The pledge comes ahead of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) - an annual meeting today that kick-starts political sessions that set the tone for China's outlook this year.

The CPPCC is China's top political advisory body. Its spokesman Wang Guoqing yesterday refuted the charge that China was becoming a harder place for foreign businesses to operate in.

In January, a survey of 500 member firms of the American Chamber of Commerce in China showed that three-quarters of firms felt less welcome than before, and inconsistent regulatory interpretations and unclear laws were the top business challenges.

The proportion of firms that said they were "financially profitable" last year fell to 64 per cent - the lowest level in five years.

But Mr Wang contrasted the claims against official figures, which showed that foreign direct investment in China grew by 5.6 per cent last year, while the number of foreign firms set up rose 11 per cent year-on-year for the first 11 months.

"It's just that... with the rise in cost of production and more competitive markets, it's not as easy to make money now," said Mr Wang.

"The government will continue to shape a lawful, internationalised and convenient business environment," he added.

Economic and social issues dominated the press conference, underscoring the key concerns for the country this year. China is likely to set a lower growth target while implementing difficult cuts to industrial overcapacity, which could lead to mass job losses. Mr Wang said despite difficulties in the global economy, outsiders that speculate about a hard landing for China are "unnecessarily worried".

When asked why China was planning to lay off millions of workers amid a shrinking working population, he said this scenario would only be "temporary".

"The government will coordinate matters to ensure an orderly population increase and continued growth in the economy," he said.

Mr Wang, 63, also sought to allay concerns that Hong Kong might be left behind in China's growth story.

He said the 13th Five-Year Plan, which will be finalised during these political sessions and implemented from this year, stated clearly the need to develop the unique advantages of Hong Kong and Macau - both special administrative regions - to "elevate their status in the country's economic development".

But he added that Hong Kong would need to adhere to the "one country, two systems" model, and criticised "the minority who seek to damage the cooperation between the mainland and Hong Kong".

The southern city has seen the rise of localism - activists and supporters who mobilise online and call for the protection of the "local identity", and even advocating independence - in recent months.

Yesterday, Mr Wang also called for calm in the South China Sea, where rival territorial claims have raised tensions between China and its neighbours in the past few years.

"The CPPCC feels that the South China Sea should be a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation," he said. "It shouldn't be used by other countries as a tool to check and contain China's development."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2016, with the headline 'China 'will maintain business-friendly climate''. Print Edition | Subscribe