Yesterday, Xi set out to build confidence among multinationals by meeting some business leaders, including AB InBev’s chief executive, Carlos Brito, on the wings of the Boao Forum.
Addressing over two dozen chief executives of large Chinese and multination companies, Xi promised to protect the interests of global companies amid rising concerns over discriminatory practices that might damage their operations.
Courting the outside world
“We will protect the lawful rights and interests of foreign-invested companies in accordance with the law, and ensure their rights to equal participation in government procurement and independent innovation,” Xi said. “China will never close its door to the outside world.”
Xi’s move to court the business community has been seen as a break from the approach by his predecessor, Hu Jintao, who rarely met corporate leaders in public.
Subsequently, Brito acknowledged that China’s fast growth had tempted AB InBev, the world’s biggest beer maker, to plan further inorganic growth, not least because there are still parts of the country where the company does not have a manufacturing presence but where it still sells its brands.
Brito called the growth potential of China’s beer market “humungous”, not least because of per-capita consumption levels of the beverage that are much lower than elsewhere in the world.
He added that plans for breweries in western China—away from AB InBev’s current coastal heartland—were underway and would open over the next three years planned.
At the meeting, Zein Abdalla, PepsiCo’s president, told Xi of some of the key issues facing multinationals in China. “One thing many foreign companies do share is a rising concern about increasing restrictions on the types of investments we can make,” he said.
“We hope the new Chinese government can continue to push forward opening up and encouraging foreign investment in more sectors, reform the administrative approval system so businesses will find it easier to enter markets and operate freely and build a more level playing field for foreign investors relative to domestic companies.”