Growing need for stronger China-US ties

Updated: 2012-07-17 13:30

By Ding Qingfen (China Daily)

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Major economies 'have key role to play' to help prevent spread of eurozone crisis

A former vice-minister of commerce, and the current secretary-general of one of the country's top economic think tanks, says there is a growing need for China and the United States to help more Chinese companies invest in the US so as to help the world economy recover.

In an interview with China Daily, Wei Jianguo cited industries such as infrastructure, high-tech, energy and tourism as having great potential for investment.

He said that without the help of the world's two largest economies working together, what he called "the dark night" of the European economic crisis will continue and spread.

Wei called on both countries to explore ways of strengthening investment cooperation.

But he also said that the current restrictions on Chinese companies investing in the US must be eased, and even lifted altogether.

Although eurozone finance ministers had been making progress in controlling the debt crisis crippling the region, further contagion cannot be avoided unless China and the US get more involved, acting together, he said.

"We cannot see an end to (Europe's) dark night until the world's top two economies join hands - this is what the whole world wants," said Wei, secretary-general of China Center for International Economic Exchanges, one of the country's most influential think tanks, and a guest economist for China Daily.

He also extolled the mutual benefits of far greater levels of direct investment by Chinese companies in the US. Wei said there is massive potential for Chinese enterprises to invest in key industries in the US, highlighting the infrastructure, high-tech, energy, tourism and environmental industries.

But he added that "Chinese companies and investors are facing unprecedented restrictions set by the US government" which are blocking the way.

"The two countries must explore ways of strengthening their investment cooperation, especially on how to stimulate Chinese investment in the US and on how companies from China and the US could jointly develop the emerging markets," he said.

The Chinese government encourages domestic companies to invest overseas as part of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), and economists predict that China's outbound direct investment, or ODI, will continue to grow.

There are some encouraging signs that investment traffic between the two sides is growing.

From January to May, China's ODI in the US grew by 45.9 percent, while the nation's ODI in total increased by 40.2 percent, according to figures from the Ministry of Commerce.

Figures from the US side showed that Chinese investments in the US have increased by 130 percent on an annual basis over the past two years.

But Wei said that while US has been a major source of China's foreign direct investment in recent times, an imbalance in the other direction still exists.

According to Ministry of Commerce, in 2011, investment from US companies into China was $3 billion, but China's total cumulative investment in the other direction by the end of 2011 was $6 billion, less than 10 percent of all foreign direct investment stock in the world's largest economy.

"China investing in the US has always been challenged - Chinese companies and investors face unprecedented restrictions and blocks set by Washington, and this is getting worse while the US presidential election draws near," said Wei. He cited various examples where the US has barred Chinese investment.

China National Offshore Oil Corp, for example, dropped its bid for Union Oil Company of California, and there was strong US opposition to Anshan Iron & Steel Group Corp's proposed investment in a steel mill in Mississippi.

He said in the past, US companies had expressed fears Chinese investors would steal technology and know-how if they invested in US counterparts, and that doubts remain that Chinese companies could provide the US with much-needed capital and jobs.

But he insisted that with challenging economic conditions in both countries at present, more Chinese investment in the US would "absolutely mean more jobs and stimulus to the US economy, and this would also be good for China too".

Wei's comments are sure to be a hot topic of discussion as more than 300 representatives from the two countries gather on Tuesday for the China-US Enterprises Investment and Cooperation in Beijing, co-hosted by the China Center for International Economic Exchanges and US Chamber of Commerce in Beijing.

The most recent figures show US manufacturing activity has contracted for the first time in three years, with its industrial sector also reporting a sizeable decline in activity from 53.5 in May to 49.7 in June - its lowest level since mid-2009.

Wei said "the US should be a hot spot for Chinese investors, thanks to its mature market and environment".