By Philippe Escande
Paris - Frédéric Vincent is one unhappy CEO. The Chinese are invading us, they do not comply with our basic rules for doing business. This was the essence of the message Vincent, the chief of French cable maker Nexans, sent in a letter to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso. In question is the arrival of the Chinese group Xinmao's €1 billion bid to acquire Dutch cable maker Draka, an offer that trumps those made by Nexans and Italy's Prysmian.
Even if the French cabling giant was clearly trying to use the case to soften up Brussels in the face of a potentially heavy fine for allegedly obstructing competition, Vincent does raise an interesting question. It is not a matter of criticizing the Commission's reaction, which has little foundation on either ethical as economic grounds, but rather a question of the nature of this latest Chinese invasion: it is no longer toys or televisions, but capital.
First it was China, the world's workshop, then China, the world'smarketplace, and now it's China, global predator. The new wave of Chinese investment activity has reached Volvo, Club Med, United Biscuits, the Greek port of Piraeus, Australian mines. China is hungry for a piece of the world's know-how, trademarks, resources. And this is just the beginning! Rather than continuing to sink their surpluses into U.S. Treasury bonds, Chinese entrepreneurs are increasingly looking to sink their teeth into Western companies. The appreciation of the yuan will only strengthen this tendency. The Japanese, whose market is more closed than the Chinese, took the same approach in the 1980s.
This new wave seems inevitable, unless you decide to somehow shut down the borders. And policymakers should think twice before taking such a step. Over the past year, the Chinese have invested only 300 million euros in Europe, while European companies have spent more than 5 billion euros in China in the same period.
Moreover, when Chinese companies -- or Indian, Turkish or Mexican firms for that matter – arrive in Europe, it forces them to operate under the common business practices of the Old Continent. And while it is not perfect, the European approach to business requires transparency and respect for the law, property and open competition.
In the end, the Japanese experience, and even the American one, show the fundamental limits of a capital "invasion." You need more than a fistful of yuan or yen to buy Hollywood or Brussels.
Read the original story in French
Photo credit: Flickrvia
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