China Monopoly Crackdown
China Monopoly Crackdown

An anti-monopoly crackdown involving foreign firms in China has caused concern within the U.S. business community. It's not yet clear how the issue will play out in the coming months.

In recent months, China's government has investigated Microsoft, Qualcomm, Daimler and a dozen Japanese auto parts manufacturers and levied heavy fines, sparking concern that foreign firms are being targeted.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alleges this violates the World Trade Organization agreement, and it intends to urge the U.S. government to file a complaint.

The vice president of the chamber’s Center for Global Regulatory Cooperation, Sean Heather, told VOA this week companies that have drawn scrutiny from Chinese regulators had been pressured to "admit guilt."

A former researcher from the U.S. Business and Industry Council, Alan Tonelson, says the foreign companies in question have no realistic way of defending themselves in Chinese courts.

"It would depend completely, not again on whether a certain statue or regulation in some technical term was violated, but it would depend completely on whether that foreign company could persuade the Chinese Communist Party that letting if off, that dropping its complaint would actually serve Chinese economic interest better than pursuing it," said Tonelson.

The Chamber of Commerce report says "discriminatory implementation" of China's antitrust law is likely to violate the commitment Beijing made when it joined the World Trade Organization.

But the president of the National Foreign Trade Council in Washington, William Reinsch, says a complaint is only likely if the United States thinks it can win.

"If you look at the results of a lot of the cases, there is a tendency for the complaining party to win," he said. "And as I said, that is probably because people do not complain unless they have got a pretty good case.  So if the United States does end up filing, I would be optimistic that they would win."

No countries have made similar appeals to the World Trade Organization.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang this week played down fears among multinational companies that Beijing's probes are targeting foreign companies, reassuring them that market access in China would be further eased.  He emphasized that only about 10 percent of companies under investigation are foreign.

In recent months, China's National Development and Reform Commission has also investigated domestic auto parts manufacturers and insurance companies.   

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Mandarin service.