On October 8, China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and Ministry of Commerce unveiled a draft version (link in Chinese) of a list of industries for which investment (both domestic and foreign) is restricted or prohibited (negative list). The draft negative list is open for public comments until October 14.

There are two categories of investment limitations on the negative list: Restricted and prohibited. Sectors on the restricted list are subject to administrative approval, while sectors on the prohibited list are completely off-limits to investment. Sectors that are not on the list are open to domestic and foreign investors. The draft negative list has 6 prohibited sectors (including one catch-all item covering all sectors in which investment is prohibited under existing laws and regulations) and 111 restricted sectors. According to an explanatory document for the draft, if China makes different commitments under international agreements, their terms will govern the issue.

Some relaxation of the current rules

The following sectors are some examples of industries in which investment would no longer require an administrative approval or license:

  • Security training business
  • Lease of overseas satellite resources or establishment of international communications gateways
  • Mergers and acquisitions of specific companies listed on stock markets
  • Internet financial information services, which include insurance agencies’ internet insurance business, either hosted on its self-operated platform or third-party network platforms

Some tightening of the current rules

At the same time, the 2021 draft negative list also adds new restrictions in some areas, including news media, education and virtual currency mining.

News media

Notably, it adds news media to the prohibited list, bringing the total from 5 to 6 prohibited sectors. Based on the draft, non-state capital would not be allowed to:

  • Engage in news collection, editing, publishing and broadcasting businesses
  • Invest in establishment and operation of news organizations, including but not limited to news agencies, publishing units, radio and television broadcasting organizations, radio and TV stations, and agencies that provide internet news information collection, editing and publishing services
  • Operate page layouts, radio frequencies, channels, programs or social-media accounts of news organizations
  • Operate live broadcast of events related to politics, economy, military, diplomacy, society, culture, science and technology, health, education, sports and others that would influence political views, public opinions or social value orientation
  • Republish news by foreign entities
  • Organize forums or awards activities in the news media sector

In comparison, the 2020 negative list also has language to bar non-state capital from being involved in online news information collecting, editing and publishing business. The Provisions on the Administration of Internet News Information Services (link in Chinese), issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China in 2017, stated that the online news collecting, editing and publishing business shall be separate from the operations side of the business, and non-state capital is prohibited from investing in the former part of business. Chinese experts believed (link in Chinese) that the operations side of news businesses is still open for private investment. China’s General Administration of Press and Publication issued a document (link in Chinese) in 2010 aiming at promoting the press and publishing industry, which mentioned encouraging and supporting non-state-owned enterprises to engage in the operating activities of the press and publication industry.

With regard to the practical impact of the new restriction, Chinese experts said (link in Chinese) that the restrictions on non-state capital in news media already existed for years, but they were not implemented thoroughly in the past. The reiteration of the restrictions is to “prevent non-state capital from interfering with mainstream public opinion for profit-making purposes.”

Wang Sixin, professor at Communication University of China, argued that news on social events and politics would be the focus of the new restrictions. News related to technology, industry, or knowledge popularization, on the other hand, are likely not subject to these requirements. It is to “prevent capital from using various hot social events for marketing purposes, or to create anxiety or mislead the audience,” Wang said.

Education

In addition to the newly added prohibited sector, the catch-all provision covering all prohibited sectors under existing laws and regulations also expanded from 152 items last year to 157 items this year. Most of the new additions are in the education sector.  For instance, the draft states that tutoring institutions for kids in the 9th grade and younger cannot go public, and it is prohibited for listed companies to invest in or purchase tutoring institutions. This reflects an earlier government document (link in Chinese) to reform the school and education system.

Virtual currency mining

The draft also proposes one change to the relevant measures of the “Guidance Catalogue for Industrial Structure Adjustment (2019 version),” items on which the private sector would be barred from receiving investment. It proposes to add virtual currency mining activities to the category of “obsolete technology and equipment.”

China has banned the mining and trading of virtual currencies. In September, the National Development and Reform Commission and other departments issued a notice (link in Chinese) on rectifying virtual currency mining activities, which clearly stated that virtual currency mining activities should be classified as an obsolete industry and off-limit for any investments.

Others

The 2021 draft also prohibits the manufacturing and sale of simulated guns, and bans non-financial entities from using “wealth management,” “equity crowdfunding” or “trading center” in their registered names or scope of business. In addition, it restricts investments (unless authorized) in areas such as manufacturing of controlled chemical products, as well as undersea cable construction and survey.