Foreign firms wonder about will to reform state-owned enterprises in China

As SOEs face global competition, China is trying to attract private investors

China’s President Xi Jinping: wants to rationalise state-owned enterprises. Photograph: Leon Neal/PA Wire

China’s President Xi Jinping: wants to rationalise state-owned enterprises. Photograph: Leon Neal/PA Wire

 

One of the central planks of reform in president Xi Jinping’s China has always been bringing about more rationalisation of the State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). The country has about 150,000 SOEs, holding more than 100 trillion yuan (€13.89 trillion) in assets and employing more than 30 million people.

But there are question marks over whether the government is going to push through reform of the SOEs, even as profits at the state groups nosedive.

All that can be heard are promises to make the firms “stronger, better” state champions, which will not fill many trying to compete with these companies from overseas with great enthusiasm. Profits at China’s state-owned enterprises fell 8.2 per cent year on year to 1.74 trillion yuan (€240 billion) in the first nine months of this year, according to Ministry of Finance data last month. This marks a steeper fall in profitability than the 6.6 per cent drop for the first eight months.

“All kinds of capital are encouraged to invest in SOEs . . . including foreign capital,” ran a Xinhua report on a statement by the State Council, China’s cabinet. “As SOEs face global competition, China is trying to attract private investors to give them a new lease of life. However, state capital should maintain “the absolute controlling position,” especially in fields relating to national security,” said the guideline.

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