A series of comments by some of the world’s top executives questioning China’s treatment of international companies reflects an anxiety that is altering the relationship between foreign business and Beijing.
For years companies that do business in China largely avoided public criticism of Beijing’s policies, fearing this could jeopardize their standing in the world’s fastest-growing major market. But recent months have seen executives from some of the biggest companies in Europe and the U.S. speak out—a testament to mounting concern that China’s economy is moving in a direction less friendly to foreign companies that have staked much of their future on it.
The latest example came when two of Germany’s leading industrialists—Jürgen Hambrecht, chairman of chemical giant BASF SE and Peter Löscher, chief executive of conglomerate Siemens AG—raised complaints about a range of Chinese policies toward foreign business during a public meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel. That followed complaints in recent months from other top executives of General Electric Co., Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc.
最近的例子就是德国的两位知名企业家：化工企业巴斯夫公司主席尤根·汉伯乐希特（Juergen Hambrecht）和西门子集团首席执行官罗旭德(Peter Loescher)在温家宝总理与来访的德国总理默克尔举行公开会议上，对中国对待外国企业的一系列政策进行抱怨。之前几个月，通用电气、微软和谷歌的高管们也发出过类似言论。
Foreign businesses are increasingly emboldened, executives and analysts say, by a sense that the Chinese market has become too important to stay silent over policies they feel jeopardize their future.
“In the past, people would have preferred to do this either privately…or through a chamber of commerce or bilaterally in government negotiations,” said Christian Murck, a veteran China-based executive who is president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. But now, he says, “there’s a greater degree of uncertainty about future Chinese policies and future treatment of foreign companies.”
The concerns center on policies that foreign executives feel put them at a disadvantage against increasingly potent Chinese competitors, or compel them to transfer valuable technology to China, or otherwise limit their access to what is now the world’s biggest market for everything from trains to cars to cellphones.
“Some of these issues have been longstanding. But the fact is that China is so crucial to the growth of companies that more light is being thrown on them,” said Duncan Clark, head of Beijing-based consultancy BDA China and chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in China. “The stakes are higher than ever.” GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, at a private dinner in Rome late last month, complained that it is getting harder for foreign companies to do business in China.
在北京的咨询公司BDA中国主管，同时也是英国商会会长的邓肯•克拉克(Duncan Clark)表示这些问题有些是长期的。但事实是中国对这些公司的成长非常的重要，所以有更多的目光聚焦在它们身上。通用电气首席执行官杰弗里·伊梅尔特(Jeffrey Immelt)在上月底罗马的一次私人晚宴上称“现在的价码比以往任何时候都高。”，并抱怨外资企业在中国开展业务越来越难了。
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in remarks at the All Things Digital technology conference in June, said China’s weak intellectual-property protection regime will be problematic for the technology industry going forward. As for Chinese censorship, he said that Microsoft has a few thousand people in China, and “we have to do something to comply with law,” adding, “We are staying and trying to be part of a reformation process.”
微软公司首席执行官史蒂夫·鲍尔默（Steve Ballmer）在6月份的All Things Digital技术大会上表示中国薄弱的知识产权保护制度将会拖科技产业发展的后腿。谈到中国的审查制度，鲍尔默微软在中国的雇员有几千人，我们必须做一些事来遵守法律，我们留下来并试图成为改革进程的一部分。
Google effectively dismantled its mainland Chinese search service in March after its top executives rebuked Beijing’s censorship practices and charged that China was the source of a series of cyberattacks against Google and other foreign companies.
At Saturday’s meeting between German and Chinese executives and officials, Mr. Hambrecht complained about companies facing the “forced disclosure of know-how” in order to do business in China. “That does not exactly correspond to our views of a partnership,” he said, according to a report by Germany’s Deutsche Presse-Agentur, whose reporter was at the meeting.
Mr. Löscher said German companies expect to be treated equally in the Chinese market, that technology transfer should be strictly voluntary, and that protection of intellectual-property rights should be strengthened, according to a Siemens spokesman. He also called for fewer restrictions on foreign investment in the auto and financial sectors.
China insists such concerns are unfounded. Mr. Wen, speaking at Saturday’s meeting with German executives and officials, said China remains committed to opening its economy and noted that inflows of foreign investment continue to grow. “Currently, there is an allegation that China’s investment environment is worsening. I think it is untrue,” the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Mr. Wen as saying in response to Mr. Hambrecht’s remarks.
Mr. Hambrecht and others have raised such concerns before with Chinese officials, and people present said the discussion Saturday was cordial, not confrontational. But the comments were noteworthy because they were so open, made in the presence of German reporters, in a country where public criticism—especially directed at a top leader—is rare.
Many companies remain reluctan t to speak out, and even those whose executives complain aren’t reducing their presence in China. Spokesmen for BASF and Siemens stressed that they are continuing to expand in China, where they both have an enormous amount at stake. BASF has invested some €3.5 billion ($4.5 billion) in China since 1990. Siemens, which employs some 43,000 workers in China, had sales in the country of €5.2 billion in the fiscal year that ended in September.
Spokesmen for Siemens and BASF say Mr. Hambrecht and Mr. Löscher were speaking broadly on behalf of German business. Mr. Löscher took over from Mr. Hambrecht this month as chairman of the Asia-Pacific Committee of German Business, a group that advises Germany’s government.
It’s too early to know if companies whose executives speak out might suffer consequences. But some business observers say another reason executives are more willing to speak out now is that China’s government is more open to input from companies than in years past. They point to the fact that even Google, despite its public slap at China’s government, was able to get its content license renewed in China this month, effectively allowing it to continue to use a mainland Chinese Web address.
“This new trend shows, on one hand, that the business environment is really getting unsustainable for some top executives … and, on the other hand, that the Chinese government is reducing the use of administrative revenge for criticism,” said Jingzhou Tao, a Beijing-based partner at law firm Jones Day. In the past, companies that spoke out were likely to experience retaliation, but “now it [can] be considered ‘constructive criticism’ ” by the government.