China's State-owned enterprises (SOEs) have moved swiftly in heeding a national call to expand imports of goods and services, as they sign major import deals in Shanghai with foreign companies in sectors covering energy to machinery.
As they have been a main target of increased foreign criticism in recent years, Chinese SOEs are vowing to share opportunities in the Chinese market with foreign partners. Analysts said that despite unfair accusations aimed at SOEs, they will continue to pursue market-oriented reforms as well as overseas cooperation.
During the ongoing China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, China Energy Corp on Wednesday purchased equipment such as tires, engines and compressors from 21 global suppliers.
China National Machinery Industry Corp (Sinomach) on Tuesday signed 21 import purchasing contracts with companies from 16 countries including the US, India, Ukraine and Portugal. The contracts are valued at about $8.4 billion in total.
The Sinochem Group Co also signed purchase contracts worth more than $11.3 billion with 17 business partners. The company purchased products in 19 categories such as high-quality fertilizer and high-end chemicals.
The deals by the SOEs are an active response to the government's call for increasing imports in an effort to balance China's trade and better position themselves as they face intensifying foreign scrutiny, analysts noted.
Under the general context of boosting imports, SOEs will take the lead, according to Hong Junjie, a professor at the University of International Business and Economics.
"Given the size of SOEs, they will also be able to make larger purchases compared with many private companies," Hong told the Global Times on Wednesday.
Hong also said that foreign complaints about SOEs are unfair and China is moving toward a more market-orientated model in terms of SOEs' business operations.
In an apparent bid to address foreign concerns, Mi Shuhua, a vice general manager of China Energy Corp, said that the company stands ready to expand purchases of foreign goods. "We will definitely better share the fruits of China's development," Mi said.
He noted that over the past five years, China Energy Corp had imported goods worth as much as 30 billion yuan ($4.34 billion).
SOEs' import expansion could also help improve their business operations, according to Huo Jianguo, vice chairman of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies.
"This is a virtuous circle," he told the Global Times.
Huo suggested that SOEs do not enjoy any advantage over private companies in importing goods and services.
SOEs focus more on importing manufacturing equipment, while private companies center more on imports of daily consumption goods, he told the Global Times.
"But the import conditions are the same for both SOEs and private companies."
Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University, noted that foreign criticism suggesting the SOEs are non-market entities has a limited impact, as "they can't totally stop China from moving forward in overseas trade."
Lin noted that in the energy sector, most equipment is already made in China instead of being imported.
"Especially in the areas of thermal power and hydropower, reliance on imports has been very limited in the past," he told the Global Times.