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Two of Germany's leading industrialists publicly attacked China's business environment during a meeting with the country's premier, Wen Jiabao, over the weekend (17 July).
Jürgen Hambrecht, chairman of giant chemical company BASF (BASFY), and Peter Löscher, chief executive of industrial conglomerate Siemens (SI), added their voices to a growing clamour of criticism against Chinese rules that are seen as disadvantaging foreign firms.
Mr Hambrecht said foreign companies are frequently forced to transfer business and technological "know-how" to Chinese companies in exchange for market access.
"That does not exactly correspond to our views of a partnership," he told Mr Wen at the roundtable discussion in the northwestern Chinese city of Xian, according to German journalists who attended the meeting.
The strong statements are particularly noteworthy due to their public nature and delivery during a meeting also attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in China as part of a four-day state visit.
Mr Löscher voiced widespread complaints about draft Chinese public procurement rules which are intended to support "indigenous innovation," a policy foreign companies fear could shut them out of lucrative government contracts.
The Siemens boss also called on China to remove investment restrictions in certain sectors, reported German daily Handelsblatt. At present, foreign companies can be required to form joint ventures with Chinese companies when setting up shop in China, as exemplified by the Shanghai Volkswagen Automotive company.
Mr Wen reportedly responded to the criticism by telling Mr Hambrecht to calm down, insisting that China remained committed to opening its economy. "Currently there is an allegation that China's investment environment is worsening. I think it is untrue," Mr Wen said.
But the comments from two of Europe's leading industrialists come on top of a recent survey by the EU's chamber of commerce in China which showed that foreign executives hold an increasingly gloomy outlook regarding China's regulatory setup.
The increasing fears of discrimination led the EU chamber's president Jacques de Boisseson to suggest firms may even consider pulling out of China altogether.
"Nobody should take for granted that European companies will continue investing whatever the business environment," said Mr De Boisseson.
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