BEIJING: Most major companies still believe that China offers more opportunities than any other global market, but concerns over government interference are on the rise.

PublicAffairsAsia, a publisher and events group, allied with Edelman, the PR network, to interview 155 senior executives from around the world regarding their attitudes towards the Asian nation.

Using a five-point scale, with one point being the highest rating, participants awarded China a score of 1.84 points when it came to being the most strategically-important market worldwide.

The country thus beat the US on 2.18 points, the rest of Asia on 2.63 points, the European Union on 2.72 points, Latin America on 3.67 points, and Africa on 4.41 points.

Overall, almost half of the panel named China as the top economic priority for organisations based in their own home nation, and 77% expressed optimism about its trade prospects with the US and Europe.

"It's clear that key corporate players view China as the core part of their growth strategy," said Mark Hass, the president of Edelman China. "With a recession looming in Europe and the US economy weak, big business views China as the bright light at the end of a gloomy global economic tunnel."

Less positively, 77% of contributors agreed the latest five-year plan issued by the Chinese authorities was likely to result in "greater engagement" by the government in industry and the economy.

In keeping with such a shift, 91% of the survey community argued it was vital for foreign companies to have "structured government relations strategies operating as a core aspect of business planning."

A further 70% suggested their own company's public relations activity would gain intensity over the next few years as they sought to respond to the evolving climate.

Opinions were equally mixed when discussing the prospects of Chinese firms attempting to "go global". In the first instance, 75% of business leaders agreed that the latest five-year plan should prove beneficial to these organisations.

However, 83% of the sample thought China suffered from "negative perceptions" about its strategies and motives overseas, and the same number thought firms headquartered in the country lacked understanding about communications and stakeholders' overseas.

Another 80% of executives questioned said that corporations seeking to expand from China into other nations tended to be unaware of the political and regulatory problems they would face as a result.

Data sourced from PublicAffairsAsia; additional content by Warc staff