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Carlyle CEO says firm is committed to China

By Chibuike Oguh

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Carlyle Group Inc Chief Executive Kewsong Lee said on Wednesday that the U.S. private equity firm will remain a long-term investor in China despite "bumps" that have unnerved some investors.

Beijing authorities have rolled out restrictions in the last few weeks on companies, including those in the technology sector, to control big data and break down monopolistic practices. They announced an investigation into Didi Global Inc and ordered the removal of its apps for download in China days after the ride-sharing giant's initial public offering in New York.

The crackdown has sparked investor concerns over policy changes and wiped off hundreds of billions of dollars in market value from some of China's largest companies including Alibaba Group Holding Limited and Tencent Holdings Ltd. Investor concerns this week that property developer China Evergrande could default on its massive debt pile have added to the market jitters.

"We at Carlyle are very strategically committed to that region and we have seen these types of bumps in the middle of the night in that part of the world," Lee said in an interview at a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York when asked about the impact of China's restrictions on companies.

Lee said that sophisticated investors such as sovereign wealth funds and pension plans remain underinvested in China, the world's second-largest economy, and that there were still opportunities available to investment firms with local expertise such as Carlyle that can navigate the country's complex regulatory environment.

Carlyle, which had $276 billion in assets under management as of the end of June, continues to be focused on the rise of consumers in China, its under-penetrated healthcare sector, and Chinese technology firms, Lee said.

On the drive toward sustainability and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG), Lee said that in the first half of this year nearly 60% of the board directors who joined companies that have been controlled by Carlyle for at least two years were from diverse backgrounds, putting it ahead of its 30% target.

He also said that even companies whose business contributes to climate change can be good ESG investments if their track record improves sufficiently.

"I think people have to also understand that you have to invest in traditional companies to provide capital to enable them to transition," he said.

Lee has been rolling out changes to improve Carlyle's fee-related earnings and boost its share price, which has doubled in the last 12 months. He said the firm's strategic plan was paying off, with the pace of fundraising and investing rapidly accelerating and performance fees hitting a record.

(Reporting by Chibuike Oguh in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)