For three decades, wealthy nations have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in China, helping drive one of the most remarkable economic booms in history. Now, China is poised to return the investment favor. The question is whether the United States will be willing and able to fully participate, according to a new study to be released Thursday. Flush with capital from its enormous trade surpluses and armed with the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves, China has begun spreading its newfound riches to every corner of the world — whether copper mines in Africa, iron ore facilities in Australia or even a gas shale project in the heart of Texas.
The study, commissioned by the Asia Society in New York and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, forecasts that over the next decade China could invest as much as $2 trillion in overseas companies, plants or property, money that could help reinvigorate growth in the United States and Europe. But the report, to be released at a Washington news conference that Commerce Secretary Gary Locke plans to attend, also warns that the United States risks missing out on a large share of the Chinese investment boom because of politics, a growing rivalry between the two nations and deep-seated perceptions that Chinese investments are unwelcome in America. “If political interference is not tempered,” the study warns, some of the benefits of Chinese investment — “such as job creation, consumer welfare and even contributions to U.S. infrastructure renewal — risk being diverted to our competitors.” While Wall Street banks have lobbied for more Chinese investments in the United States, hoping that will bring bigger deals for the banks, Washington has remained wary — even though the Obama administration says it welcomes Chinese money.
But anti-China rhetoric is hot in Washington and among many state and local officials. One frequently cited worry is that Chinese companies, many of them owned partly or entirely by the government, will use their purchases to gain military secrets. Another concern is that Chinese companies will buy American companies with manufacturing operations in the United States, close those factories and move production to China. China, of course, is already a force in global markets. Over the last few years, it has made multibillion-dollar loans to developing nations and let its state-owned companies acquire minority stakes in global powerhouses like Rio Tinto, Morgan Stanley and the Blackstone Group.