China has long been known for its stringent data rules, causing challenges for both foreign and domestic businesses operating within the country. However, recent developments suggest that the Chinese government is signaling a softer stance on data regulations, aiming to facilitate business operations, especially for foreign companies. This shift in approach is seen as a positive step towards creating a more favorable investment climate in China.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has released draft rules that indicate a relaxation of government oversight on data exports, as long as the data does not qualify as “important.” This proposed update aims to provide more clarity and exemptions for data handlers regarding cross-border data transfer and personal information protection. The European Union Chamber of Commerce in China welcomes these changes and sees it as a response to the concerns voiced by businesses operating in the country.
Foreign businesses, along with various organizations, have been lobbying the Chinese government for better operating conditions. The proposed draft rules also address some of the challenges faced by businesses, particularly in cross-border data transfer, by specifying exemptions for certain types of data. This is seen as a positive step towards improving the investment climate in China, as it provides much-needed clarity and reduces ambiguity in data regulations.
China’s economic rebound from the impact of Covid-19 has slowed down since April, adding further uncertainties for businesses operating in the country. The tightening of data security regulations and the implementation of an updated anti-espionage law have contributed to these uncertainties. The Chinese government’s push for data sovereignty ideals, including strict data localization requirements, has caused concerns for multinational corporations operating in data-intensive industries.
To support foreign business operations in China, the State Council revealed a 24-point plan, which includes measures to reduce the frequency of random inspections for low-risk companies and promote data flows with “green channels” for certain foreign businesses. However, some foreign business sources view the plan as consisting mostly of vague commitments or repackaging of existing policies. Nevertheless, there is hope that these measures, along with the proposed changes in data regulations, will contribute to improving the business environment for foreign companies.
According to the U.S.-China Business Council’s annual survey, data, personal information, and cybersecurity rules rank among the biggest challenges for its members this year, followed closely by international and domestic politics. The proposed changes in data regulations aim to lower regulatory risk but do not completely eliminate it due to the undefined nature of “important data.” This ambiguity allows Beijing to determine its importance at any given time, creating uncertainty for businesses operating in China.
Despite the ongoing challenges, there seems to be a commitment from the Chinese leadership to adopt a more transparent and predictable approach to technology regulation. The recent regulations relating to data export controls align with the State Council’s 24 measures unveiled in August, which explicitly call for free data flows. This demonstrates a potential shift towards creating a business environment that encourages innovation and investment in emerging technologies.
In addition to changes in data regulations, there has been an easing of other regulations in China. In the field of artificial intelligence, companies like Baidu have been allowed to launch generative AI chatbots to the public, following the implementation of new rules that exempt companies developing such technologies as long as they are not available to the mass public. This relaxed approach indicates a willingness to promote technological advancements while also ensuring appropriate regulation when necessary.
The proposed changes in data regulations, along with other recent developments, suggest a shift in China’s approach towards facilitating business operations, especially for foreign companies. While challenges remain, the Chinese government’s efforts to address concerns and create a more favorable investment climate show promising signs. Businesses operating in China should stay informed about the evolving regulatory landscape and take advantage of the opportunities arising from these changing dynamics.