Sunday, March 04, 2012

Heyday for China investors in Europe

Chinese working on the trains
Chinese working on the trains (Photo credit: Anika Malone)
My tracking of Chinese investments in Europe started almost by accident. Last year I noted how many European countries reported that China's telecommunication giant Huawei - one of the country's largest private companies - promised many European capitals investments and jobs.
Partly it seems a successful Chinese negotiation trick in crisis-stricken Europe, and partly real investments from Huawei. Then I noted how cheerful Danish diplomats announced that an alliance of electronics producers Aigo - combining the interests of about a hundred of private Chinese companies - had decided to use Denmark as its stepping stone into Europe. Representatives of the Aigo alliance had visited Denmark, Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands at the end of 2011 to decide where to invest.
The Danish proved at least not 100 percent right, as the Aigo alliance decided in February to use Belgium as its stepping stone into Europe; the Danish had been too eager and too early. Although, from the reports in the China Daily I learned the Danish had not given up all ambitions.
Belgium had made an offer the Chinese private companies (50 according to Aigo, over a hundreds according to Belgium) that was very hard to refuse. The China Daily:
"Belgium offered us a one-year waiver of office rent, 40 consultants and 300 free air tickets andhotel rooms," Feng said. "We chose 50 Chinese businesses that would set up an office in Belgium and test the water on March 22." 
Note that the Chinese guests are only passing by in Belgium at the end of March and have not yet committed themselves to anything.
Up to then, I collected the news more as a by-catch of the China news I was scanning for my China Speakers Bureau, but started an eye on that investment news proved to be pretty interesting. Most of the European governments, and the 'independent' media in those countries, reported enthusiastically about the Chinese willingness to save the economy of their country. They mostly did not check what happened in other European countries, where conflicting information made headlines.
By then, I had started a business page at Google+ to collect this kind of China investment news into Europe in a more systematic way; since that seemed relevant, I started to include also China investments into other Asian, African and American countries
A clear plan is not yet there, although I have started to work on setting up a more comprehensive website in my spare time and are looking for ways to get this kind of intelligence operation funded. For the time being, it is interesting how Chinese companies (especially the private ones, I'm missing the much larger state-owned entities. Actually, Hamburg in Germany is doing a better job there, with Baosteel and Cosco as major investors) are having a heyday, where different governments are eager to present good news to their constituencies, while ignoring they are messing up their negotiation position with the Chinese partners.
Of course, Europe is large enough to have China business stepping stones in almost every country. Now, I have seen them in Belgium (Antwerp), the Netherlands (Rotterdam), Denmark, Ireland (Athlone) and France (Illange). In most countries the hosts are already investing many millions. (Do you know more? Let me know!). But it looks like Chinese investors are the main winners in the short term. 
Most individual countries have no political interest in sharing information with their competing neighbors, so an independent intelligence center might be a good idea.
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