Business / Economy

Chinese outbound investment should be feared or embraced?

(Xinihua) Updated: 2016-06-06 17:24

BEIJING - The Chinese are coming!

The subject has been hitting the headlines of world media over recent years. "Chinese are taking over the world," the Guardian exclaimed in 2011; In 2015, Forbes reported about "Hungry dragon" buying America; and in 2016, the Daily Telegraph warned that Chinese buyers were "targeting Australia."

These headlines mirror the complex feelings about Chinese investment, which have been oscillating between welcome and suspicion, coupled with prejudice, misunderstanding and fear.

Some experts have pointed out that the West's "over-sensitivity" toward China is mainly due to differences in values and ideology, a lingering Cold War mindset and uneasiness over China's rapid growth.

Scapegoating Chinese

With house prices soaring lately in some major cities of countries such as Canada, Australia, the United States and New Zealand, rhetoric about "Chinese invasion" is growing louder. Media overemphasis on Chinese buyers over other ethnic groups has fuelled public concerns that they are pricing local buyers out of the housing market.

Many surveys and media reports have found that more and more people now believe that offshore buyers, mainly those from China, are to blame for rising house prices.

In New Zealand, the opposition Labor Party sparked a political storm last year with claims that Chinese property investors were fuelling the housing bubble in Auckland.

The accusation has been refuted by new data collected by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), which shows that only less than 1 percent of homes in the country were sold to offshore Chinese buyers in the first three months of 2016.

It is the first-ever official figures on overseas buyers of New Zealand homes, and right after the figure was released in mid-May, National Party list MP Jian Yang demanded apologies from the Labor Party for scapegoating offshore Chinese property buyers for the country's soaring house prices.

In Australia, speculation that Chinese investors have caused the country's high property prices was buried after sales data collected by Australian university analysts in late 2015 show that Chinese investments made up only 2 percent of the 270-billion-dollar residential market in Australia.

According to analysts from the University of Sydney and the University of Western Sydney, the housing shortage in Australia and hungry local demand have been pushing prices up long before the recent pouring in of Chinese and Asian investments.

Who's the real culprit?

Data analysis and statistics have shown that fears and angst over Chinese buyers are often unjustified. Some leading economists and property experts pointed out the real culprit for the housing unaffordability in some countries is domestic fundamentals, and blaming foreign buyers "amounts to barking up the wrong tree."

According to chief economist of the National Bank of Canada, Stefane Marion, the soaring prices in Vancouver and Toronto reflect the rapid growth of employment in both cities and the fact that the population of young people aged 20-44 is growing.

"It's wrong to think the rapidly rising housing prices in these two markets are the result of speculation," he said in a new report, cited by the CBC News in a recent article.

Marion's view was echoed by other experts, including Bank of Montreal senior economist Robert Kavcic.

"It's easy to blame the foreign-buyer boogeymen for the home price gains in Vancouver and Toronto," Kavcic said.

However, "what we do know is that the fundamentals right here at home are strong enough on their own to drive big price gains," said the economist.

Kavcic said rapid population and employment growth in Vancouver and Toronto, lack of developable space and low mortgage rates are the true "culprits" behind the unconscionable rise in house prices.

Beyond housing

The "fear of China" is felt well beyond the field of real estate. Driven by rapid economic growth, China in recent years has become a significant source of outbound investment and its companies are now making more and more acquisitions abroad.

However, despite their contribution to local employment, just like what the offshore Chinese property buyers have done, these companies sometimes find themselves facing strong misgivings in the West.

"The expansion of China's outbound foreign direct investment is often seen as a threat. A 'fear of China' is prevalent in the West," said Jiang Shixue, a professor and deputy director of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Taking the European Union (EU) for example, Jiang said that "some Chinese investment projects have been blocked because they might allegedly give China a 'strategic foothold'."

Actually, Chinese outbound investment benefits both sides, Jiang noted.

For the EU, Chinese capital plays a positive role in a number of ways, including making up for the shortfall in some European countries' capital and investment needs, promoting the development of productivity in the host country and helping European firms to increase their market share in the world, he said.

Such effects are also quite obvious in the United States, where Chinese investment in acquisitions, new operations and expansions is set to reach 30 billion US dollars this year, following a record high of over 15 billion dollars in 2015.

According to a recent study, Chinese investment in US businesses is expected to reach 200 billion dollars by the end of this decade.

A win-win game

Thanks to Chinese investors, more local jobs have been sustained and created in the United States, and many dying US enterprises have been reborn, experts and economists said.

For example, Greenfield Industries in South Carolina, which held a leadership role in the cutting tools industry, was acquired for 20 million dollars by China-based TDC Cutting Tools in 2009, when the US company was dying and had only 116 employees.

At first, "we were concerned, listening to different things on TV about Chinese how they were trying to buy everything. We were all concerned that they would bring their group of people and exclude us from what was going on, but it hasn't happened," employee Sherrie Carter recalled.

"It's like a family atmosphere and it has just been amazing," Carter added.

Now, the Greenfield Industries has been brought back to life and has at least 350 employees on its payroll.

The Greenfield Industries is typical of a spate of success stories of Chinese investment in the United States. Statistics released by China's Ministry of Commerce shows that Chinese investments now support about 80,000 full-time US jobs, a five-fold increase in the past five years.

And creating jobs and helping dying US enterprises survive are not the only boons brought by the takeovers.

As economists have pointed out, the tie-up of abundant Chinese funds and distribution channels with advanced US technology and management expertise has also sharpened the competitiveness of the merged groups, generating an effect of one plus one being bigger than two.

Wan Long, chairman of Shuanghui, China's largest pork producer that purchased its US counterpart Smithfield Foods in 2013, has said the acquisition enabled Smithfield to access the huge Chinese market through Shuanghui's distribution network while Shuanghui gained access to high-quality, competitively-priced and safe US products, as well as Smithfield's best practices and operational expertise.

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