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

Investment Incentives

Different localities court foreign investors by providing preferential packages like reduced income taxes, resources and land use benefits, reduced import/export duties, special treatment in obtaining basic infrastructure services, streamlined government approvals, and funding for initial startup.  These packages may stipulate export, local content, technology transfer, and other requirements as part of the preferred investment package.  These localities offer preferential treatment in special economic zones (like Shanghai, Tianjin, Fujian, and Guangdong), development zones, and science parks.  China in 2016 announced seven additional FTZs (Chongqing, Zhejiang, Hubei, Henan, Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Liaoning), to begin operating in 2017.  These new economic zones are a shift from prior FTZs because they target inland areas in need of economic development and areas that are consistent with Chinese officials’ call for greater foreign investment in Central and Western China.  China also uses the Catalogue of Priority Industries for Foreign Investment in Central and Western China to provide greater market access to foreign investors in inland areas of mainland China, so as to spur investment.

There are no expressed prohibitions against foreign firms participating in research and development programs financed by the Chinese government.  In fact, for certain sectors where China lacks the capacity and expertise to conduct advanced research or supply advanced technology in a given field, foreign participation is generally encouraged and solicited.  This is part of China’s stated goal of moving up the manufacturing value chain and transforming China’s economy to a model driven by innovative growth.  However, there are a large number of sectors that China deems sensitive due to broadly defined national security concerns, including “economic security,” which can effectively close off foreign investment to those sectors.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

China’s principal customs-bonded areas include Shanghai, Tianjin, Shantou, three districts within Shenzhen (Futian, Yantian, and Shatoujiao), Guangzhou, Dalian, Xiamen, Ningbo, Zhuhai, and Fuzhou.  Besides these official duty-free zones identified by China’s State Council, numerous economic development zones and open cities offer similar privileges and benefits to foreign investors.

In September 2013, the Shanghai Municipal government and the State Council announced the establishment of the Shanghai Pilot FTZ, which condensed four previously existing bonded areas into a single FTZ.  In April 2015, the State Council expanded the number of FTZs to include Tianjin, Guangdong, and Fujian, although the Shanghai FTZ remains the largest of the four.  The goal of the FTZs is to provide a trial ground for trade and investment liberalization measures and to introduce service sector reforms, especially in financial services, that China expects to eventually introduce in other parts of the domestic economy.

In particular, Chinese officials tout the use of a “negative list” – that is, a list expressly identifying sectors where national treatment does not apply – as a key reform introduced in the FTZs.  On April 20, 2015, the State Council published a revised negative list to supersede the 2014 list.  The 2015 list regulates trade and investment in all four FTZs, reducing the number of excluded items to 122 (down from a high of 190 items when the list was first rolled out in 2013).  Major sectors in which restrictions have been lifted include manufacturing, construction, wholesale and retail, information technology services, financial services, real estate, and business services.

In 2016, the State Council announced the establishment of seven additional FTZs in Chongqing, Zhejiang, Hubei, Henan, Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Liaoning.  The foreign investment negative list used in the existing four FTZs will also apply to the seven new FTZs.  The stated purpose of the new FTZs is to integrate more closely with the “One Belt, One Road” plan – the Chinese government’s initiative to enhance global economic interconnectivity through joint infrastructure and investment projects that connect China’s inland and border regions to countries in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa, and Europe.  These new FTZs will be operational beginning in 2017.

Although the FTZ negative list in theory provides greater market access for foreign investment in the FTZs, many foreign firms have reported that in practice, the degree of liberalization in the FTZs is comparable to other opportunities in other parts of China.  According to Chinese officials, over 18,000 entities have registered in the FTZs. The municipal and central governments have released a number of administrative and sector-specific regulations and circulars that outline the procedures and regulations in the zones. 

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Shortly after China’s WTO ascension, China revised its FDI laws regarding export performance requirements, requirements to include local content, requirements to balance foreign exchange through trade, technology transfer requirements, and requirements to create research and development centers.  As part of these revisions, China committed to only enforce technology transfer requirements that do not violate WTO standards on intellectual property and trade-related investment measures.  In practice, however, some local officials and regulators prefer investments with “voluntary” performance requirements that develop favored industries and support the local job market.  Provincial and municipal governments will sometimes restrict access to local markets, government procurement, and public works projects even for firms that have already invested in the province or municipality.  In addition, Chinese regulators have reportedly pressured foreign firms in some sectors to disclose intellectual property content or provide intellectual property licenses to Chinese firms, often at below market rates.

Regulatory restrictions, including in the Cyber Security Law, limits the ability of domestic and foreign operators of “critical information infrastructure”  to transfer business and personal data outside of China, while requiring those same operators to store such data in China. Restrictions on cross-border data flows and unclear requirements on the use of domestic encryption algorithms have prompted many firms to review how their China systems interact with their global corporate networks. In order to comply with emerging requirements that technology used by business be “secure and controllable,” foreign firms are facing pressure to disclose source code and other intellectual property disclosures during testing and certification related to government procurement; adhere to prescriptive technology adoption requirements, often in the form of domestic standards that diverge from global standards, which give preference to domestic firms; and to comply with operational restrictions such as privacy measures, data center location, and cross-border data flow restrictions.  

Prepared by our U.S. Embassies abroad. With its network of 108 offices across the United States and in more than 75 countries, the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce utilizes its global presence and international marketing expertise to help U.S. companies sell their products and services worldwide. Locate the U.S. Commercial Service trade specialist in the U.S. nearest you by visiting

More Information

China Economic Development and Investment