Britain on Tuesday joined a growing number of Western countries in further using national security as a litmus test for Chinese investment by announcing a plan to sharply tighten rules on foreign takeovers.
The proposal, which follows a pledge by Prime Minister Theresa May to protect sensitive industries, widens the scope of deals that Britain can thwart to protect its competitive edge. The new rules being suggested extend the government’s reach when it comes to foreign takeovers, lowering the threshold to include acquisitions of even small companies, intellectual property, individual assets or company shares.
The move aligns Britain more closely with the United States, Canada, Australia and major European economies, which have been strengthening foreign investment and takeover criteria. In Washington, lawmakers are expected to soon expand the powers of a body that investigates international deals for national security risks.
Britain and other governments in the West have had to tread a fine line when it comes to handling investment from China.
Beijing and its homegrown companies are increasingly a competitive force in the global economy, in sectors ranging from technology to energy. But China is also the second-largest economy in the world, with deep pockets to invest overseas and a large market of consumers at home.
Britain and other countries in Europe are trying to protect strategic industries, while courting Chinese investment and fighting to obtain better access to customers in China for their own companies.
The challenge is especially stark for Britain as the country negotiates its withdrawal from the European Union. Dire warnings abound that companies will leave if they lose access to the 28-nation bloc.
Financial firms have already begun shifting some operations elsewhere. Multinational companies including Airbus and BMW are questioning whether and how to maintain their investments post-Brexit, depending on what kinds of links Britain maintains with the world’s second-largest economic bloc.
Greg Clark, Britain’s business secretary, said on Tuesday that the latest proposal would ensure that Britain had “the appropriate safeguards to protect our national security whilst ensuring our economy remains unashamedly pro-business and open to high levels of foreign investment in the future.”
英国商务大臣格雷格·克拉克(Greg Clark)周二表示，新计划将确保英国有“适当的保障措施来保护我们国家安全的同时，确保我们的经济在未来始终对商企有利，并且向高水平的外国投资开放”。<-->纽约时报中英文网 http://www.qqenglish.com<-->
Under the plans, business owners will be encouraged to notify the government of any transaction that might trigger a host of potential national security risks contained in a set of guidelines. They could also face criminal charges for failing to comply with information requests or other steps the government might take to halt what it deems risky transactions.
Those would involve “hostile parties acquiring control over entities or assets with the potential to undermine national security,” including foreign governments acquiring sensitive assets through “traditional and nontraditional means,” or individuals or entities affiliated with hostile states, the British government said.
Currently Britain vets very few deals based on national security. A proposed takeover of Northern Aerospace, a British airplane parts supplier to Airbus and Boeing, by a Chinese rival is the only one this year to be held up by British officials. The deal was eventually called off.
The government said that only a small number of investment activities, mergers and transactions in Britain actually pose a risk to national security. But Britain has noted that it could review as many as 50 a year under the new plan.
The proposed changes could allow the government to clamp down on virtually every sector of the economy, including energy, defense and transportation, and in assets as diverse as energy networks, major airports and health care databases. “The reforms,” the government proposal said, must “be designed to ensure that control over assets themselves cannot be acquired by those who wish our country harm.”
Chinese companies have spent billions of dollars buying strategic real estate and companies in Britain in recent years, including the prominent Leadenhall Building in London, known as the Cheesegrater. And they have been enthusiastic buyers of businesses and properties from New York to Frankfurt.
But Chinese buyers are facing increased scrutiny around the world.
A steady series of attempted deals by Chinese companies in the United States has helped galvanize lawmakers in Washington to call for greater scrutiny of investments from China. The Senate and House of Representatives have agreed on the final text of legislation that would strengthen the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a multiagency body known as Cfius, and are expected to approve the bill soon with a final vote.
中国企业在美国持续进行的一系列并购交易尝试，也在促使华盛顿的国会议员呼吁加强对中国投资的审查。参众两院已经就加强美国外国投资委员会(Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States)的立法最终文本达成了一致，预计很快就能通过最终表决。
The impact of growing concerns has been significant: The value of new Chinese deals in the United States over the first five months of this year fell 92 percent from the same period last year, to $1.8 billion, according to Rhodium Group, which tracks Chinese investment overseas.
In Britain, a Chinese investment in Hinkley Point, a new nuclear power plant on Britain’s west coast, triggered Mrs. May’s determination to raise the bar for what is considered a strategic foreign investment.
In Canada, which has been more open to Chinese investment in recent years, the government blocked a $1 billion takeover of a construction company, citing national security concerns.
Several splashy deals in Europe have also prompted discussion there about whether to raise the barriers for investment from China. In Germany, the acquisition of Kuka, the country’s largest industrial robot manufacturer, by a Chinese appliance maker triggered a backlash. The deal turned Midea, the Chinese company, into a major player in automation almost overnight.
More recently, a stealth move by the Chinese carmaker Geely to acquire a $9 billion stake in Daimler prompted Germany to take a closer look at its investment disclosure rules.
Despite the pressure, Chinese companies, faced with increased difficulties in the United States, have been able to continue making investments at a good clip in Europe. Over the past six months, the value of newly announced Chinese deals in the region has surpassed that of new deals in the United States by nine times, according to Rhodium Group and Baker Mackenzie, the law firm.
“Despite the tightening of investment screening practices in several countries, Europe remains relatively open to Chinese investment,” said Thilo Hanemann, director at Rhodium Group.
“Only a handful of deals are reviewed and instances of intervention remain rare compared to North America. Not to forget, in the era of Trumpian politics, Europe provides Chinese investors with a more stable and predictable political environment,” Mr. Hanemann said.