Adidas pays around $80 million sponsor the Olympics and yet Li Ning gets to carry in the torch, figuratively burning much of that $80 million. This is so analogous to the legal treatment foreign companies get in China.
China laws are generally the same for both foreign and domestic companies (at least for those industries in which foreign companies are allowed to participate as Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprises, or WFOEs), but when push comes to shove, it certainly helps to be Chinese.
Now before anyone writes in to say this is true in every country in the world, let me say that I know this, but it differs by degree and it is the degree that matters. There are certainly worse places in the world than China for foreign companies (including many countries generally considered better), in terms of legal treatment, but there are also certainly a lot of better places.
UPDATE: In a post entitled, Branding Gold, the Black China Hand reminds us of how Li Ning previously tried to get CCTV commentators to wear Li Ning clothing while televising the Olympics and astutely speculates about a potential link between Li Ning backing down on the clothing in return for getting opening ceremony honors.
ADDITIONAL UPDATE: Danwei does a nice job covering Li Ning’s usurpation of Adidas in a post entitled, Li Ning lights China’s Olympic flame. [link no longer exists] Danwei sees Li Ning’s lighting the flame as carrying the strong message “We are China, we’ve been around for ages, and we do things our way.”