Companies stay in China despite political risks and travel limits.
BEIJING — American companies are increasingly worried about coronavirus restrictions, regulatory issues and trade tensions with China, but have been cautious so far about moving production elsewhere, new figures show.
American companies in China are as worried now about bilateral relations between the United States and China as they were when President Donald J. Trump’s trade war peaked in 2019, according to an annual survey released on Tuesday by the American Chamber of Commerce in China. A brief “Biden bump” in sentiment, when relations seemed like they might improve after President Biden’s inauguration a year ago, has disappeared, the chamber found.
China’s stringent measures to prevent the coronavirus from spreading have caused three-quarters of American companies to have trouble getting expatriates into China to run their operations, according to the survey. China has halted almost all international flights, cut back sharply on business visas, nearly halted dependent visas and mandated three-week quarantines for overseas arrivals in sometimes grimy facilities with few amenities.
But those difficulties have not translated into any rush for the exits. Exactly the same share of the chamber’s members, 83 percent, has said in each of the past three annual surveys that they have no plans to relocate operations to other countries.
The one exception seems to be the tech sector, which is very heavily reliant on China as the world’s dominant manufacturer of electronics. Some companies have been giving more contracts to factories elsewhere, and sometimes building new factories, even as they continue to rely mainly on China.
“They’re making duplicative investments in other parts of the world in order to manage the risk and uncertainty,” said Alan Beebe, the president of the American Chamber. The group’s survey was conducted late last autumn, long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Instrumental, an American company that provides remote monitoring of assembly lines to a wide range of electronics companies, has found a sharp decline in the past two years in the share of new electronics manufacturing contracts awarded by multinationals to Chinese factories. These factories obtained 46 percent of new contracts last year, compared with 66 percent in 2019, before the pandemic began, said Anna-Katrina Shedletsky, Instrumental’s founder and chief executive.
The main winners have been Taiwan and Southeast Asian nations, as companies have become increasingly concerned that coronavirus travel restrictions are preventing them from seeing firsthand what is happening on factory floors in China, she said. Factories in North America, particularly Mexico, have gained a handful of contracts, but not enough for the change to be statistically significant, she added.