Those foreigners who hold shares in Chinese tech companies are being warned that all is not well.
It is China expert Gordon Chang who explained at Gatestone Institute, where he is a distinguished senior fellow and a member of the advisory board, that the nation controlled by a repressive Communist regime is “on the road to expropriating the shares held by foreigners in China’s tech companies.”
China has been getting more and more belligerent in recent months on the world stage, since Joe Biden moved into the White House in the United States, and a video that appeared to be from Chinese interests recently threatened a “continuous” nuclear war against anyone who might oppose its looming attempts to take over Taiwan.
Chang explains that the new threat to financial investments in Chinese companies is developing because Chinese officials have declared illegal a specific “variable interest entity,” a process through which Chinese companies have been listing themselves on foreign exchanges – and collecting massive investment money.
Which all gives Xi Jinping, the Chinese ruler, “an excuse now to begin a confiscation campaign.”
He explained the assault has been foreshadowed in a company called DiDi Global.
“The company’s shares started trading on June 30 on the Big Board, where it raised $4.4 billion in an initial public offering. Two days later, China’s Cyberspace Administration halted downloads of DiDi Global’s popular ride-hailing app, DiDi Chuxing,” he explained. “Then, Chinese regulators started investigation after investigation, coming down hard on the business. For instance, on July 16 the Cyberspace Administration and six other Chinese government agencies—the Ministry of Public Security, the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Transport, the State Taxation Administration, and the State Administration of Market Regulation—began ‘an on-site cybersecurity inspection’ of DiDi Chuxing.”
The bull’s-eye was thrown on DiDi, Change explained, because the company has a VIE structure, which evades Chinese law that prohibits foreign ownership of Chinese tech companies.
“The prohibition on foreign ownership is why investors, in one of the most anticipated IPOs in history, did not buy stock of the company operating the Alibaba businesses in China. Instead, in 2014 they purchased shares of Alibaba Group Holding Limited, incorporated in the Cayman Islands. Alibaba Group Holding Limited tops a complicated VIE structure,” he explained.
The move, however, later was ruled illegal by China’s Supreme People’s Court.
And it’s already happened.
“Chinachem, a Hong Kong business, made an investment, indirectly, into China Minsheng Banking Corp. After the value of the Minsheng shares skyrocketed—Chinachem’s ownership interest increased by almost 64 times—the Chinese parties cut out Chinachem, confiscating its interests in the bank,” Chang wrote.
VIE setups have been declared illegal in other scenarios, he explained.
“There is … the case of China Unicom. In the middle of the 1990s, the Chinese central government permitted foreign companies to buy stock in that telecom business through the China-China-Foreign structure, which, like VIEs, evaded unambiguous Chinese rules against offshore investment. Beijing later forced the unwinding of that arrangement, disadvantaging Unicom’s foreign investors.”
But the offerings have continued, and Winston Ma of New York University noted that nearly every U.S.-listed Chinese company that foreign investors like pension funds and endowments can buy is listed through a VIE structure.
However, Chang warned the mood in Beijing is changing.
He notes the opinion that “the current leadership has increasingly frowned upon the model because of deepening fears of sensitive information falling into foreign hands.”
Those companies with VIE interests now are under investigation, he reported.
“The Communist Party has been stirring up anti-outsider anger, already bubbling up in Chinese society. Officials, therefore, are taking a fresh look at VIE arrangements, especially because Beijing wants to keep profits generated in the China market at home,” he wrote. “People believe that if Beijing were to publicly declare a VIE illegal—in other words, expropriate foreign ownership—it would be like setting off a nuclear weapon…”
“Xi Jinping believes there is already too much foreign influence in Chinese society, so he will limit to the greatest extent possible offshore ownership of China’s enterprises. As a part of this effort, he will, I think, step up a long-running campaign to harass foreign businesses and begin to force offshore investors out of his country. The questionable VIE structure gives Xi the perfect excuse to now expropriate foreign ownership of successful Chinese tech companies,” Chang explained.
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