China welcomes Honeywell to Wuhan amid US' decoupling push
Published: May 20, 2020 02:12 AM

Honeywell’s booth at the 21st China International Industry Fair in Shanghai in September 2019 Photo: VCG

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday extended a high-profile welcome to US industrial conglomerate Honeywell on the company's opening of its emerging market headquarters and innovation center in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province, in a move which highlighted a rare moment of cooperation between the two countries amid escalating diplomatic and trade tensions.

Li's congratulatory letter for the occasion and Honeywell's decision to choose the virus-hit Chinese city for the project underscored China's continuing efforts to expand market access for foreign companies and dealt a major embarrassment for some US officials who are stepping up a push for a China-US decoupling in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese analysts noted.

In the letter, the Chinese premier praised Honeywell's efforts in building long-term cooperation with China and reaffirmed that "China's commitment to deepening reform and opening-up and welcoming overseas enterprises to expand investment and cooperation with China will remain unchanged," according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Li also stressed that China welcomes companies from around the world to seize the opportunities in China and pledged that the country will treated all companies, domestic or foreign, as equals.

Honeywell on Tuesday opened its emerging market headquarters and innovation center in Wuhan, as the company seeks to expand its presence in the fast-growing markets in the central and western regions of China.

"Honeywell is willing to expand cooperation with Wuhan, take advantage of the talent and market advantage of the central and western regions in China to boost technological innovation and better service the central and western markets," Zhang Yufeng, president of Honeywell China, was quoted as saying by China News Service. 

Zhang noted that Wuhan has an advantageous geographical location and is also a crucial industrial and research base.  

Wuhan is a major transportation and manufacturing hub in the central region of China with dozens of top universities. The city is also known for its robust optics and photonics industry.

With the opening of Honeywell's project, Wuhan, which was once under a strict lockdown due to the COVID-19 epidemic, also welcomed the first project by a Fortune 500 company since the city lifted the lockdown in early April. 

The project will cover a wide range of operations, including management, research and development and sales for the company's intelligent building technology, specialty materials and technology and other businesses, according to media reports. Honeywell has over 50 wholly-owned subsidiaries and joint ventures in over 30 cities across China, Xinhua reported.

"First, this is a US company voting with its feet and ignoring US government's intervention in normal operations of businesses; Second, this is the [result] of China's constant efforts to build and optimize [business environment]," Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday, adding that the Chinese premier's congratulatory letter might have been aimed at highlighting that.

US officials have been calling for a decoupling between China and the US over the past few years and have stepped up their efforts in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic by hyping up temporary disruptions to the supply chain due to the virus as the reason to argue for a separation. Some US officials have even offered to pay the moving cost for US companies to leave China.

Wuhan, in particular, has become a favorite target for some US politicians in their attacks and even conspiracy theories against China over COVID-19. But even before and during the pandemic, the Honeywell project has moved forward, with the company signing the deal with local officials on January 20 and registering a wholly-owned subsidiary in the city's major high-tech development zone in March. 

"This is another example that proved that efforts by some politicians in the US to cut off economic and trade cooperation between China and the US were futile," Mei Xinyu, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Mei said that China welcoming Honeywell to Wuhan also underscored China's measured and balanced approach in rising tensions with the US: hitting the US back in areas in which it "went too far," while preserving the economic and trade link between the two countries.

As the US has recently mounted a crackdown on Chinese telecom firm Huawei aiming to cut off chip supply to the company, China was ready to target several US companies, including Apple, Qualcomm and Boeing in a retaliation against the US, the Global Times reported on Friday.