Chinese leader Xi Jinping has ordered greater protection for international firms' rights and intellectual property, state media reported Tuesday, as Beijing works to lure in foreign companies spooked by a crackdown and an ailing economy.

US and European firms in China have said that doing business is harder than ever as geopolitics, an anti-espionage law, raids on multinationals and favourable treatment for domestic competitors weigh on morale.

But Beijing has shown signs that it is now seeking to draw foreign companies back.

Xi in a written speech to an APEC summit of chief executives this month invited firms to invest, promising "heart-warming" measures "to make it easier for foreign companies to invest and operate in China".

And at a meeting on Monday of China's Communist Party Politburo -- the country's top decision-making body -- he said China must ensure "comprehensive, open and transparent" legal treatment of foreign entities, state broadcaster CCTV said.

China's legal system should "strengthen protection of intellectual property rights", he said, as well as "safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of foreign enterprises".

Beijing must "create a market-oriented, legal and international first-class business environment", Xi said.

Foreign entrepreneurs have long complained about vague and arbitrary regulations in China, chief among them being intellectual property theft -- an issue raised by US officials during visits to China this year.

US and European enterprise lobbies warned in September that foreign business confidence in China had reached its lowest in years as slowing growth and geopolitical tensions hit investment prospects.

But the business lobby is seeing signs that things could be improving following increased US-China engagement and a meeting between Xi and President Joe Biden this month.