UK companies in China view 2024 as pivotal for investment

The British Chamber of Commerce stated on Tuesday that UK businesses in China view 2024 as “a pivotal year” where Beijing will address the growing concerns about its faltering economy and investment climate.

Beijing-based Chamber of Commerce said that a survey of UK firms in China revealed that sentiment has improved since record levels of pessimism were recorded last year. However, 60% of respondents believe business is still more difficult than it was in 2022 when Covid-19 restrictions decimated China’s economy.

Beijing, under pressure to increase foreign direct investment in China, has released a policy document with 24 points to address investor concerns. However the chamber stated that Beijing must push ahead with its implementation due to “promise fatigue” growing among businesses.

Julian Fisher, the chair of chamber, said that next year will be “a pivotal one”. “It is not only about words, but ultimately 2024 will need action or there could be serious economic problems.”

The Chinese economy is struggling to recover, and this has made the country less attractive as a marketplace. Beijing’s increasing hawkish attitude towards foreign businesses has also hurt.

China has tightened its control over data, and has cracked down on crucial activities for foreign investors such as due diligence.

Specific policies have affected some British businesses and individuals, including a crackdown against online tutoring which has led to fewer opportunities for English Teachers.

Fisher stated that, although there are no official statistics, he has heard the number British expatriates had decreased from 35,000 pre Covid to 16,000 after Covid. Fisher said that although there were no official figures, he had heard the number of British expatriates in China had declined from 35,000 pre-Covid to 16,000

He said that there are signs that China’s government is becoming more open and accessible to foreigners, allowing them greater access to officials.

Last month, the government highlighted other issues that hinder foreign business. For example, regional laws that require foreign companies to go through longer licensing procedures than domestic businesses.

Fisher stated that “this year, we have seen more activity.” Fisher cited as an example China’s acceptance of certain UK vocational education certificates after a British request.

He said that it would take time and more measures to determine if there was an improvement in the situation.

Officials from the chamber said that Britain’s relationship with China has been “treading water” since the changes in British government, and will continue to do so until next year’s elections.