The vanishing allure of doing business in China

This article originally appeared in The Economist.

It is nothing new for foreign firms to endure shakedowns by the Chinese Communist Party. As far back as revolutionary times, Chairman Mao’s victorious troops did not directly confiscate foreign-owned assets as their Bolshevik forerunners had done in Russia. Instead, they wore them down with higher taxes and fines so big that eventually companies gave away their assets for nothing.

In one memorable case dug up by Aron Shai, an Israeli academic, a British industrialist in 1954 professed to be handing over everything to the Communists from “large blocks of godowns (warehouses) down to pencils and paper”. And yet, he complained, Comrade Ho, his opposite number, continued to haggle “like a pre-liberation shopkeeper”.

Though multinationals have flocked back to China since, the government’s nit-picking has continued, encompassing everything from technology transfer to how freely firms can invest. There have been big improvements, but the pettifoggery is a constant reminder, as one American puts it, that companies should not get “too big for their britches”. Western firms operate in China on sufferance and one day the country may seek to replace them

Read the full article at The Economist.

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