Chinese firms seek overseas expansion in crisis
Updated: 2011-12-29 10:36
BEIJING - While many transnational companies tighten investment in developed economies in face of a lingering economic crisis to ease profit declines, Chinese firms see possibilities of making their investments mutually beneficial there.
China Three Gorges Corp (TGC), the operator of the world's biggest dam, last week won a bid to buy a 21 percent stake in the Portuguese utility Energias de Portugal for 2.69 billion euros, marking the first time for a large Chinese firm to join the privatization of eurozone nations amid the continent's debt crisis.
The deal is Portugal's first and biggest project of a privatization program under a 78-billion-euro bailout package agreed by the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May. It is also expected to boost the Chinese power generator's overseas expansion.
The move highlights the willingness of Chinese firms to invest and help invigorate struggling economies against the backdrop of the worsening eurozone debt crisis and rising global uncertainties.
Portugal's Treasury Secretary Maria Luis Albuquerque hailed the TGC proposal as "a vote of confidence in the Portuguese economy."
The desire of Chinese investment, which can bring local jobs and help consumers, is again on a rise in the EU and the United States based on confidence in China's growth, said Lin Shunjie, deputy secretary general of the China Chamber of International Commerce.
"The debt woes indeed provide Chinese companies with good business opportunities," Lin said, noting that more deals have been concluded this year as weakened economies seek buyers for their distressed assets to help resolve financial problems.
Chinese firms have been on a buying spree this year. Following Chinese oil giant CNOOC's acquisition of Canadian oil sands developer OPTI in July, Sinopec recently completed a 2.2-billion-Canadian-dollar transaction to takeover Canada's Daylight Energy Ltd.
China's Yanzhou Coal Mining also said last week it has proposed buying 77 percent of Australia's Gloucester Coal. The deal could create Australia's largest listed coal firm if approved.
Since China's entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, the country's outbound direct investment (ODI) has been on the rise, especially after the outbreak of the global economic crisis.
The country's ODI hit $68.81 billion in 2010, taking up 5.2 percent of global capital flows and exceeded the ODI of both Japan the United Kingdom for the first time to become the fifth largest in the world.
China's overseas investment has boosted its own growth and contributed positively to recipient countries, said Deputy Commerce Minister Chen Jian at an investment forum last month.
Chinese overseas affiliates, which totaled 16,000 units as of 2010, employ nearly 800,000 people and pay $10 billion in taxes each year, according to an IMF study.
China's overseas investment is likely to grow 20 to 30 percent annually in the next two to three years, an Ernst & Young report said.
Over the past decade, Chinese investment has proved nonthreatening to many countries, but instead, it can help them pull through crises; yet Chinese investors still face unfair treatment, Lin said.
Many proposed Chinese deals in the overseas market have been blocked by national security or technology issues, Lin said. The Chinese telecom giant Huawei has repeatedly been rebuffed from making deals in the United States over security concerns during the past few years.
In the latest outcry, China's Zhejiang Youngman Lotus Automobile and Pang Da Automobile Trade Co. were rejected in a deal to purchase Swedish automaker Saab, as Saab's former parent company GM refused the technology license transfers. The refusal finally led to Saab's bankruptcy.
To create a fair environment for Chinese investment, Lin called for developed economies to "remove political factors in reviewing Chinese deal proposals in order."
Besides external factors, Chinese investors should also recognize their own weaknesses to cope with these setbacks, said Wang Zhile, director of Beijing New-Century Academy on Transnational Corporations.
Wang said Chinese firms are increasingly challenged by compliance management, which requires familiarity with local laws and rules and corporate regulations in obtained businesses. Communications with non-governmental organizations and focusing on local public appeals are also important.
"We cannot count on the outbreak of financial crisis to lift China's 'going global' drive, but Chinese firms can take the chance to improve their competitiveness," Lin said.