Job creation seen as key to China's investment in U.S.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011; 12:00 AM
ELGIN, ILL. - Ni Pin believes in the United States. He's lived here for almost 20 years. His three children were born here. And, unlike many Americans, he thinks that even in the middle of the Rust Belt, there's hope for manufacturing in this country.
Ni runs the U.S. operations of a Chinese company called Wanxiang International, an auto parts giant with worldwide revenue of $8 billion. Over the past decade, Wanxiang America has purchased or invested in more than 20 U.S. firms and now employs more Americans - 5,000 at last count - than any other Chinese company.
It's for that reason - jobs, jobs, jobs - that Chinese President Hu Jintao will highlight Wanxiang's U.S. operations on Friday during an event in Chicago. Hu is hoping to show Americans that in addition to providing them with cheap goods, Chinese companies can also give them good jobs.
That issue is a critical one in an economic relationship that many Americans feel is unfairly tilted toward Beijing. In speeches last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke both complained that China was not open enough to U.S. products, had not done enough to let the value of its currency appreciate against the dollar and was not respectful of U.S. intellectual property rights.
If the United States and China are going to begin to rebalance their economies, China needs to bring more jobs to the United States.
For years, there wasn't much progress. As of 2008, Chinese companies had invested less than a total of $5 billion in the United States, even as U.S. firms had made $50 billion in capital investments in China and employed tens of thousands of Chinese workers.
But since 2009, Chinese investment in the United States has exploded - jumping about 150 percent to almost $12 billion in total, according to new figures from Rhodium Group, a New York-based consultancy. Today, Chinese firms employ at least 10,000 Americans.
"While most people are asking, 'What's holding Chinese investment back?' that question is obsolete," said Daniel Rosen, a principal at Rhodium. "Chinese investment is taking off."
Among leading Chinese entrepreneurs, the United States was second only to Hong Kong in a survey of potential destinations for investments, said Clarence Kwan, the head of the China Services Group for Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. "There is a real enthusiasm about the United States," he said.
That enthusiasm could be a boon for China's image in the United States. While China's economic growth has benefited U.S. companies and shareholders, most Americans still view the country warily. In a new poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, 61 percent of 1,053 people surveyed said they viewed China's economy as more of a threat to U.S. jobs than an opportunity for new markets and investment.
Until China figures out a way to link itself to "the idea of job creation . . . you are always going to have a negative perception of China in the United States," said Drew Thompson, director of the Nixon Center's China Studies Program in Washington.
Thirty years ago, another Asian dynamo faced the same problem. Like China, Japan had an enormous trade surplus with the United States and was being attacked over unfair trading practices.