This information is derived from the State Department's Office of Investment Affairs' Investment Climate Statement. Any questions on the ICS can be directed to
Last Published: 7/25/2017

China has a more restrictive foreign investment climate than its major trading partners, including the United States.  While China remains a top destination for foreign direct investment, many sectors of its economy are closed to foreign investors.  China continues to rely on an investment catalogue to encourage foreign investment in some sectors of the economy while restricting or prohibiting investment in many others.  China’s investment approval regime shields inefficient and monopolistic Chinese enterprises—especially state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and other national champions—from competition.  Foreign investors are hampered by discriminatory practices, selective regulatory enforcement, licensing barriers, and the lack of an independent judiciary.  Other challenges include poor intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement, forced technology transfer, and a systemic lack of rule of law.  Moreover, many of China’s industrial policy goals, including the 13th Five Year Plan and Made in China 2025, inherently discriminate against foreign companies and brands by favoring local products in key high-tech and advanced manufacturing sectors.

U.S. companies and industry associations are increasingly vocal in their criticism of China’s discriminatory investment regime.  A 2017 business climate survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in China found over 60 percent of U.S. businesses surveyed felt China would be unlikely in the next three years to carry out needed reforms to provide greater market access to foreign companies; 81 percent felt China’s business climate had deteriorated and become less friendly to U.S. investors in the last year.

In 2016, the Chinese leadership pledged to gradually improve the investment climate through:

  • Intensification of U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) negotiations covering “pre-establishment” market access and using a “negative list” approach, with the aim of a high-standard agreement reflecting non-discrimination, transparency, and open and liberalized investment regimes on both sides.

  • Implementation of staggered “negative lists” to govern investment throughout the country, including: a pilot market access negative list applicable to both domestic and foreign investors; an updated draft Catalogue for the Guidance of Foreign Investment in Industries, which proposes new liberalization in 20 investment sectors; and the announced expansion of the Free Trade Zone (FTZ) pilot foreign investment negative list to include seven new FTZs (for a total of eleven) that will go into effect in 2017.

Although Chinese officials continue to promise economic reforms that will provide greater market access and protection to foreign investors, announcements are met with skepticism due to lack of details and timelines.  Investors also cite inconsistent regulations, growing labor costs, licensing and registration problems, shortages of qualified employees, insufficient intellectual property protections, and other forms of Chinese protectionism as contributing to China’s deteriorating business climate.

Key Transparency Indicators of China’s Economy




TI Corruption Perceptions


79 of 175

World Bank "Ease of Doing Business" Report


78 of 190

Global Innovation Index


25 of 128

U.S. FDI in partner country


U.S. $74.56 Billion

World Bank GNI per capita


U.S. $7,930

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China Economic Development and Investment Law