With Ambassador Gary Locke taking the lead in the effort, American officials are trying to overcome a sense here that the United States is hostile to Chinese investment; that national security concerns pose insurmountable obstacles; and that members of Congress, local politicians and sometimes even the media will vocally oppose attempts by “Red China” to acquire or put money into struggling or start-up American firms.
“We want to make it clear that the U.S. welcomes investment from China,’’ said Christopher Quinlivan, commercial counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
While China’s investment in the United States has shown overall growth over the past five years, it still represents less than 1 percent of all foreign investment in the United States, said Thilo Hanemann, research director at the Rhodium Group, a New York-based economic research firm that tracks the inflow.
Chinese companies — primarily state-owned enterprises — began seriously investing overseas only in the middle of the past decade and kept the vast majority of their funds in Asia and places with mineral resources, such as Australia.
New figures supplied by China’s Commerce Ministry put investment in the United States in 2011 at $1.13 billion, far less than the $4.6 billion in Europe. The U.S. figure also represents a 19 percent drop from the previous year, although overall investment has increased more than fivefold from 2007, when it stood at just $195 million, according to Chinese government statistics.
Among about 260 U.S. projects that have attracted Chinese capital, the largest share in dollar terms has come from Chinese state-owned enterprises investing in things such as steel and shale natural gas, according to the Rhodium Group. Most of the investments have been smaller stakes taken by Chinese private businesses, often in the renewable or clean-energy sector. The U.S. government does not provide nationwide figures on Chinese investment.
Overall, some experts now expect that China will send as much as $2 trillion in investments overseas between now and 2020 as the country tries to shift its economy away from a reliance on exports.
A hard sell
Until recently, the task of promoting the United States to Chinese investors was left to state and local officials, but the Obama administration has launched a new initiative, called “Select USA,” to drum up investors’ interest.
Locke, a former commerce secretary, has been talking up the United States as an investment destination since he arrived here last summer, but it’s proving a hard sell.