Chief executives from many Fortune 500 companies attended a three day conference in Shanghai during the last week of September. The Fortune Global Forum's main theme was "China: The Next 50 Years." President Jiang Zemin gave the opening speech at the conference, demonstrating that this event was considered of great importance to China as well as to the international business community. About 300 CEOs met with well-known political leaders at this international conference.
Heads of the world's largest corporations discussed China's development in the next fifty years and how foreign investors will affect said development. Lee Kuan Yew, Senior Minister of Singapore, predicted that by 2050 China will have undergone the transitions from a planned, agrarian, centralized system to a market, industrialized, participatory system.
Dr. Henry Kissinger spoke about the WTO, saying that he felt "with wisdom on both sides, ...a solution should be achievable within this year." He stated that the U.S. and China have no conflict on principal issues, but differ widely in ideology and culture. Most prominent CEOs understand the vital importance of China's WTO entrance as a means of securing market access within China and are pushing for China's entrance this year. Ernest Micek, chairman of Cargill Inc., said, "It is certainly the desire of the U.S. people that China and the U.S. resolve their differences and China be admitted to the WTO."
At the Shanghai Fortune Forum, Zeng Piyan, Chairman of the State Development Planning Commission, faced difficult questions about China's trade policies. One CEO asked Zeng to explain how the government will reconcile its attempts to increase foreign investment with the restrictions it places on that investment. Zeng responded that the government is looking into different possibilities to streamline the state approval process, including increasing the regulatory power of local officials. Obviously, the government is aware of problems with foreign investment and is trying to find the right combination of restrictions and freedoms to increase trade in a manner that helps, and does not harm, the Chinese economy. Foreign businesses in China have heard promises of greater market freedoms in return for their patience and continued foreign investment in China. The promised freedoms and anticipated profits have not materialized for many foreign firms, leaving many to wonder if they ever will. Although foreign companies recognize the potential profits of China's vast markets and continue to invest in China, there is much frustration with the regulatory climate and the product approval process, both of which are cluttered with red tape.