China Is Full of Risks. So Why Can’t Corporate America Leave?

For decades, America’s corporate chieftains saw China as a money spinner. They gushed about its hundreds of millions of consumers, called it “one of the biggest opportunities” and made predictions that this would be “China’s century.”

Now, those executives have come away from recent visits to the country with a more sober view. Western companies doing business in China are facing pressures that were unimaginable several years ago. The country’s economy is floundering and its relationship with the United States is strained. Three years of border restrictions and an effective commercial lockdown have opened cracks that have yet to heal.

Nine months into the country’s post-Covid reopening, companies are grappling with a tough reality: China’s $18 trillion economy is fraught with peril but remains impossible to ignore and difficult to leave. A retreat could mean losing an edge to future global competitors. Many Western companies still see their China operations as a long-term bet, but the payoff is tempered with hazards.

“There is a recognition among C.E.O.s that they need to mitigate some risks,” said Myron Brilliant, a senior counselor at Dentons Global Advisors-ASG. “They don’t want to ignore the market, but everyone has their eyes wide open in this environment.”

The list of worries is long. Police raids on western companies, steep fines, scuttled deals, regulations restricting

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