China fast tracks new foreign investment law as US talks loom

A Chinese official adjusts a Chinese flag before the start of a meeting on Dec 21, 2018.
A Chinese official adjusts a Chinese flag before the start of a meeting on Dec 21, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's Parliament will vote in March on a new foreign investment law that will ban forced technology transfer and illegal government "interference" in foreign business practices, the official Xinhua News agency reported on Wednesday (Jan 30).

The timetable suggests that the law could be formally approved by the rubber-stamp Parliament, accelerating a process that usually would take a year or more as Beijing rushes to meet Washington's demands in order to de-escalate their trade war.

The Trump administration has accused Beijing of intellectual property (IP) theft and forced IP transfers, demanding change and threatening further tariffs since trade tension flared between two countries last year. China has repeatedly rebutted such accusations.

The two sides will hold two days of talks in Washington, starting on Wednesday, in the highest level discussions since United States President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day truce in their trade war in December.

The decision to accelerate the legislative process came after the National People's Congress (NPC) Standing Committee convened a special two-day session this week to conduct a second review of the draft.

The first draft of the law was submitted to it on Dec 23, with the draft made available to the public for comment until Feb 24.

There is an "urgent need" for such a law to be passed, as current legislation "could hardly catch up with the changing requirements in building a new system of open economy", Justice Minister Fu Zhenghua was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

 
 
 
 

Once adopted, the law will replace three existing laws that regulate joint ventures and wholly foreign-owned enterprises.

The latest draft of the law appeared largely in line with the first draft, which included 39 articles with a notably stronger line on IP protection, with definitions of the terms on "pre-establishment national treatment" and "the negative list" added to ensure clarity, Xinhua reported.

The new draft also specified penalties on failure to report their investment information to related authorities.

It is unclear if the second draft of the law would be made available to the public for comment, which could protract the process.

As of October, there were almost 950,000 foreign-funded companies registered in China, accounting for investments exceeding US$2.1 trillion (S$2.83 trillion), according to Xinhua.