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A decade ago, most global companies’ strategic presentations gave pride of place to plans for China. This position is now taken by other areas — big data or artificial intelligence, perhaps. What has changed? China is now bigger, richer and more influential on the world stage. The vicissitudes of management fashion may have something to do with it. But the most powerful driver is probably years of hard experience. As China’s economy has matured, protectionism has remained one of its key organising principles.


Global companies maintain their presence in China, depend on its manufacturing capacity, and hire its graduates. In some areas — luxury goods, cars, iPhones — they sell a lot of products there. But the “China First” approach pursued by Beijing has served to shift many industries’ priorities.


This is the crucial context for news that opposition from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has sunk the $1.2bn acquisition of US cash transfer company MoneyGram by China’s Ant Financial.

这对于下列新闻是至关重要的背景:美国外国投资委员会(CFIUS)的反对已导致中国蚂蚁金服(Ant Financial)收购美国汇款公司速汇金(MoneyGram)的12亿美元交易泡汤。

It is plain that if the positions were switched, with an American bidder and a Chinese target, China would block the deal. Other than, perhaps, information technology — where the “great firewall of China” constitutes the world’s biggest non-tariff trade barrier — few Chinese industries are more protected than finance. The country’s banks are state-owned. Foreign banks are allowed to operate in the country, but various official barriers mean they have never made much headway there, despite big investments and official pledges of increased openness. It took a 2012 ruling against China by the World Trade Organization for its market to be opened — nominally — to global payment processors such as Visa and MasterCard. Since the ruling, Chinese regulators have dragged their feet in allowing outsiders to set up shop.


Whether the MoneyGram deal would have presented a true security risk to the US (the only basis on which Cfius is allowed to rule) is debatable. But the politics are clear. Other than the particular companies that have received premium bids from Chinese suitors, there is no constituency willing to stand up for Chinese investment in the US. Business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, rather than lamenting federal heavy-handedness, have expressed their own worries about China’s trade policies.


The anti-China mood in Washington is not restricted to the avowedly and indiscriminately protectionist administration of Donald Trump (the president appoints the officials who staff Cfius). It is bipartisan, and was already taking hold under former president Barack Obama, who blocked the Chinese takeover of the semiconductor equipment maker Aixtron.

华盛顿的反中国情绪不仅限于公然和不加区分实行保护主义的唐纳德•特朗普(Donald Trump)政府(CFIUS的官员是由总统任命的)。这种情绪是两党共有的,而且在前总统巴拉克•奥巴马(Barack Obama)主政时期就已经形成。奥巴马政府曾经阻止中资收购德国半导体设备制造商爱思强(Aixtron)。

The busted deal follows other measures to restrict Chinese access to world markets in the US, Europe and other countries. But this one must sting. Mobile payments, Ant’s core business, is the cutting edge of Chinese consumer technology. Jack Ma, who chairs Alibaba, Ant’s parent company, is Chinese tech’s global face, and he made a special effort to court President Trump with the promise of US jobs.

这笔交易泡汤之前,美国、欧洲和其他国家还出台了限制中资进入世界市场的其他措施。但这件事肯定会刺痛。蚂蚁金服的核心业务——移动支付——代表着中国消费者科技的前沿。蚂蚁母公司阿里巴巴(Alibaba)的董事长马云(Jack Ma)是中国科技行业的全球面孔,他曾付出特别努力巴结特朗普总统,许诺在美国创造就业。

The US and the world may only be responding in kind to Chinese protectionism. It would nonetheless be a tragedy if the story ended there. Yes, it is understandable that the world demands reciprocity. But trade officials must keep their eyes firmly on the goal of a more open China — not domestic markets protected from Chinese competition. China can become a true global economic leader only if it changes its ways. Should change come, the world must be ready to welcome it.


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