China tells top global CEOs it will 'further open up' amid US trade tensions

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (front, centre) with representatives of the 7th Round-Table Summit of Global CEO Council at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 20, 2019.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (front, centre) with representatives of the 7th Round-Table Summit of Global CEO Council at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 20, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (AFP) - Premier Li Keqiang vowed on Thursday (June 20) to further open up China's economy during a meeting with CEOs of top global companies amid simmering trade tensions with the United States.

Washington and other trade partners have long complained about the uneven playing field foreign companies encounter in China, theft of intellectual property and entry barriers that allow state-backed companies to dominate crucial sectors of the economy.

During the meeting in Beijing with heads of 19 multinational companies, Li pledged to make China more attractive to foreign investors.

"We welcome more and more foreign investment to come to China," Li told the group representing the Global CEO Council.

"We will also relax (restrictions on) access to even more fields to create a market-oriented, law-based internationalised business environment."

Among the industry leaders attending the meeting at Beijing's opulent Great Hall of the People were Volkswagen head Herbert Diess, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Daimler's Ola Kallenius, UPS chief executive David Abney, Honeywell CEO Darius Adamczyk and Nokia's Rajeev Suri.

Jean-Pascal Tricoire, head of Schneider Electric, told Li that foreign firms are the "best bridges" between China and the rest of the world.

"Since some time though, the world has been going through turbulences, tensions and challenges," Tricoire said.

The meeting comes as bruising US tariffs threaten China's status as the "factory of the world," with companies looking to move production outside the country, according to a recent survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in China.

The Chinese government also convened top tech companies and warned them of consequences if they cut off technology sales to the country, the New York Times reported earlier this month.

Last month US President Donald Trump moved to blacklist Chinese tech giant Huawei over national security concerns, curbing its access to US-made components it needs for its equipment.

China later announced plans for its own list of "unreliable" foreign companies, which it said targets companies that "undermine national security".

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet at the G-20 summit in Japan next week, raising hopes that trade war talks will be back on track after they collapsed last month.

"It is believed that the two sides will find a proper solution to the problems (highlighted by the US) through dialogue based on an equal footing, while protecting each other's legitimate concerns," China's commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng said at a regular briefing Thursday.

China's rubber-stamp Parliament in March approved a foreign investment law, as a possible olive branch in trade talks with the United States, but it received a lukewarm welcome from business groups.