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Business

China Inc. orchestrates a kind of capital flight

TOKYO -- With their home economy losing steam, Chinese companies have been on a foreign acquisition spree.

     Last November, U.S. hotel chain Marriott International agreed to buy Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. Then another interested buyer showed up. China's Anbang Insurance Group offered more for Starwood, and a bidding war ensued.

     The hotel drama continued until Anbang withdrew its most recent bid. But the acquisitive Chinese insurer made its presence felt in corporate deal-making.

     Chinese companies have been carrying out mega-deals since the start of the year. Consumer electronics maker Haier Group in January bought General Electric's home appliance operations for $5.4 billion, and state-owned China National Chemical in February acquired Syngenta, a Swiss pesticide and seeds maker, for $43 billion.

     According to Thomson Reuters, acquisitions of foreign companies by Chinese companies totaled $102 billion in the first three months of 2016, on par with the record amount in all of 2015. If Chinese companies continue to acquire foreign companies at the current pace, the total amount is expected to quadruple this year.

     Behind the acquisition spree is Beijing's will to take control of the global economy. At an international conference on the globalization of China's economy held in November, in Sanya, Hainan Province, one participant from China called for exports of Chinese human resources and culture via the country's One Belt, One Road initiative. By doing so, he said, Chinese standards would become global standards and 70% of the world's top 500 companies eventually would be Chinese companies.

     He received loud applause.

     Last month, the leaders of China and five Mekong Delta countries met in Sanya. Premier Li Keqiang said China will establish a credit line of $10 billion to promote development along the basin.

     China's economic slowdown is partially fueling the overseas expansion drive. A manager of a Chinese company that is expanding in Laos said his company decided to make the jump because it became difficult to do business in China alone.

     In a sense, Chinese companies are buying up foreign businesses because they fear the yuan will further decline. Consider it a kind of capital flight.

     China urgently needs to transform itself so it can lean more on high value-added industries. Labor costs -- which have made the country competitive for many years -- are rising. To survive while maintaining profitability, China Inc. must race to secure the world's most advanced technology and human resources.

     As corporate China tries to buy more of it, the rest of the world is becoming increasingly inward-looking. In the U.S., where the presidential election cycle keeps heating up, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton now pooh-poohs the Trans-Pacific Partnership, while Republican front-runner Donald Trump is calling to completely close U.S. borders to Muslims.

     An anti-immigrant sentiment is gaining momentum in Europe, too.

     Now China wants to make its standards global standards. This plan is bound to bring friction.

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