China comes calling with $2 trillion in its pocket

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The clash between Chinese companies and the governments in countries where China is shopping for assets has heated up recently -- and it is likely to get much worse. The U.S. effectively blocked a takeover of 3Com by Bain Capital and Huawei Technologies. Some of 3Com's assets were deemed "strategic," meaning China should never get its hands on technology that might be counter to American interests.

The most significant example of a fight between a sovereign government and China's M&A power was the death of a deal between Chinese mining company Chinalco and Rio Tinto (RTP). Chinalco planned to put almost $20 billion into the metals company. That would have given it a preferred position to access certain metals and ore. The Australian government balked and the investment died. Oddly enough, a Rio official was recently detained by the Chinese for "spying" to get access to local metals prices.

Other countries have been more open to Chinese cash. Brazilian oil giant Petrobras is taking $10 billion in Chinese investment to finance offshore drilling. China will get guaranteed access to crude at market prices. China is also active in investing in oil interests in the Middle East and Africa.

China has signaled that it plans to take a portion of its $2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves and begin to use it for a more aggressive shopping spree. According to the Financial Times, "Beijing will use its foreign exchange reserves, the largest in the world, to support and accelerate overseas expansion and acquisitions by Chinese companies." That plan will almost guarantee a number of evaluations by sovereign governments about whether they want Chinese interests to own parts of critical industries based in their countries.

The battle will also end up being one between governments and shareholders in the companies China is targeting. If Chinese firms will pay a premium for a position in a public company or a buy-out at a large profit to stockholders, will those deals be blocked due to "national interests"? If so, investors could lose a great deal of money.

China's plan to "shop the world" for assets is about to get much more divisive.

Douglas A. McIntyre is an editor at 24/7 Wall St.

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