Hu Jintao

China can help if EU treats it fairly

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 June, 2012, 12:00am


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The term 'yellow peril' was once used to describe poor Chinese migrating en masse to the US. Now it's used in scare-mongering about rich Chinese buying up strategic assets in the US, Europe and Australia. We have read this script, in the 1980s before the bubble burst, when Japan went after trophy foreign companies and their assets. You only need to read books like Rising Sun by the late Michael Crichton to recall Westerners' paranoia about an all-powerful corporate Japan.

So when it comes to China, a country that still calls itself communist, the mistrust and fear will be much exaggerated. The problem is, the cash-strapped West, especially its euro-zone countries, want Chinese money, but not the Chinese influence that goes with it. It's OK for Beijing to buy dodgy sovereign bonds, but not real Western assets. That is essentially the complaint that Deputy Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai will voice when he accompanies President Hu Jintao to the G20 leaders' summit in Mexico next week.

The days of indiscriminate bond-buying are over. When the threat of default by deadbeat Western governments becomes all too real, you can hardly blame Beijing for having second thoughts. China is willing to help Europe, Cui said, but it also needs to diversify its investments there.

This is just the law of economics, not empire-building. Capital from China's trade surplus must go somewhere. Bottled up domestically, it will cause, as it has already, asset bubbles. When China invests in other poor or developing countries, it is accused of neo-imperialism. But as Cui said, with justification, mainland companies face all sorts of official and hidden obstacles when they target assets in developed countries. 'National security' is usually the excuse. For example, attempts at overseas expansion by mainland telecoms giant Huawei have been repeatedly thwarted in Australia, the European Union and the US. Mainland tycoon Huang Nubo has been barred from buying a chunk of Iceland to build a resort.

Beggars can't be choosers. Either don't take Chinese money or give up real assets. You can't have it both ways.