Most US companies in China say pollution impedes hiring: Survey

BEIJING (AFP) - Most United States companies in China have problems recruiting senior executives because of the country's chronic air pollution, a survey said on Wednesday.

For the first time, a majority of respondents - 53 per cent - to the American Chamber of Commerce survey said air quality issues had made it difficult for their organisation to hire senior talent to work in the Asian economic giant. The figure is up from 48 per cent in 2014 and 34 per cent in 2013.

The results were included in the 17th annual business climate survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in the People's Republic of China (AmCham China), which had responses from 477 of the organisation's 1,012 company members.

China's cities are often hit by heavy pollution, blamed on coal-burning by power stations and industry, as well as vehicle use, and it has become a major source of discontent with the ruling Communist Party.

Retired senior officials have acknowledged that it may kill as many as half a million people a year.

Premier Li Keqiang vowed to "declare war" on pollution at the country's annual legislative gathering last year, and announced new measures to add to a raft of others issued recently.

The AmCham survey highlighted a number of other areas of growing concern for US companies doing business in China, including heightened Internet censorship and a number of high-profile probes targeting foreign firms.

"From a regulatory perspective, almost half of companies believe that foreign businesses are less welcome in China than before," the group said in the report's executive summary.

The vast majority of respondents - 83 per cent - said Internet censorship in China either negatively or somewhat negatively impacts their ability to conduct business in the country.

In recent months, authorities have cracked down on the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) commonly used to scale the vast censorship apparatus known as the Great Firewall.

Overall, 47 per cent of respondents said they felt foreign businesses were less welcome in China than before, up from 44 per cent last year.

For the first time since 2010, respondents reported increasing Chinese protectionism as among the top five challenges facing their business.

The other four were labour costs, inconsistent regulatory interpretation, shortages of qualified employees, and shortage of qualified management.

China economic growth is slowing and more than 30 per cent of companies surveyed said they had no investment expansion planned in 2015, the highest rate since 2009.