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Buying America, Chinese-Style

America’s relations with China have a disturbing tendency to oscillate between embrace and rejection, and that manic ambivalence is now on open display, as China’s relentlessly mounting economic power has finally resulted in the inevitable: Chinese firms are starting to buy up American companies.

The United States received its first shock – followed by complaints from the US Congress – when the Chinese computer company Lenovo Group purchasing IBM’s personal computer division. Never mind that by 2000 China had invested less than $400 million in the US, while Britain had invested over $230 billion and Japan $159 billion. IBM is one of America’s most iconic brands, and many US politicians were taken aback by China’s economic incursion.

That almost automatic reaction was reminiscent of the 1980’s, when America woke up to find Japanese companies like Sony buying Columbia Pictures, Mitsubishi Estates buying Rockefeller Center, and even the famous Pebble Beach golf course on the California coast being snapped up by Japanese investors. “People were afraid the Rockettes would have to wear Kimonos,” wrote Susan Tolchin, of George Mason University, the author of “Buying Into America.”

Next, it was announced that the large Qingdao-based Chinese appliance maker, Hai’er, was interested in picking up home-appliance maker Maytag, another iconic all-American brand.