When you think about U.S.-China relations you probably think about the $200 billion (and counting) worth of goods that the U.S. imports from China and the huge sums of U.S. Treasuries that China owns -- $1.3 trillion at last count.
Well things are about to change, dramatically.
According to author Orville Schell—who has lived in China off and on for more than 40 years—China will invest more than $1 trillion globally over the next decade. That begs the question: Will the U.S. get its share?
China invested $5 billion in the U.S. economy last year—far less than the $51 billion that the U.S. invested directly in China. It currently owns about $28 billion worth of American assets—in companies and real estate, according to the Rhodium Group. And that number is expected to grow.
In recent weeks, Zhang Xin, chief executive of the largest commercial real estate developer in Beijing, partnered with the Safra family of Brazil to buy a chunk of the General Motors Building in New York City. And the Dalian Wanda Group, a Chinese developer, announced plans to build a luxury hotel in Manhattan.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese and Hong Kong investors have also become the second-largest foreign buyers of United States homes, after the Canadians.
“One of the great new interesting trends is investment from China to the U.S., which we are not really prepared for because of tremendous amounts of anxiety about what that means in terms of political control, government control," says Schell, author of many books on China including "Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century."
Fears about Chinese government control played a role in Congressional opposition to China National Offshore Oil Corporation's (CNOOC) bid for U.S. oil company Unocal in 2005. CNOOC eventually withdrew the offer.
Earlier this year China’s Shuanghui International Holdings reached a deal to acquire Smithfield Foods (SFD), the largest pork processor in the U.S. There has been some opposition from various groups and Congressional members but the deal still stands, awaiting regulatory review and a shareholder vote.
The U.S. “will have to reckon with” China’s desire to invest here, says Schell, “And if we do it could be very much to our advantage.”
This spring President Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping met in California to talk about revising investment treaty talks. Schell says it’s important the two leaders get along because “we are joined at the hip economically, environmentally."
His one big concern about China is “the tremendous amount of corruption” in a society where “the government controls so much of the economy." But, Schell adds, “Whatever we may think of China or they think of us we have no choice but to work it out.”
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