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What’s Making China Inc. Go Global

Apr 21, 2017

Good morning.

Until recently, most of China’s corporate giants have tended to operate in a world of their own—serving a rapidly growing domestic market but not venturing out much beyond their borders. Aside from the natural resource companies, only a handful of big Chinese corporations—like Lenovo and Huawei—operate as truly global businesses.

But that’s changing, and ChemChina’s $43 billion planned takeover of Swiss agriculture firm Syngenta is the biggest manifestation of that change. That massive deal dwarfed the previous record, which was Chinese oil company CNOOC’s purchase of Canadian energy company Nexen for $15.2 billion. Fortune’s Geoff Colvin has done an interesting look at what’s behind ChemChina’s purchase for our May issue, which you can read here.

The acquisition binge by these Chinese giants is certain to become one of the most interesting business stories of the next decade—assuming Beijing allows it to. As a Financial Times interview with Wanda Group founder Wang Jianlin showed earlier this week, the Chinese government is picky about the kind of outbound investment it's willing to allow, given the downward pressure on its currency from private capital flows.

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Among the many cultural differences western businesses can expect to experience, one is the pay issue I wrote about earlier this week. Top executives of Chinese state-owned enterprises earn a tiny fraction of the compensation of top executives at the companies they are acquiring. I’m told the CEO of ChemChina, for instance, makes less in total compensation than Syngenta board members make in board fees! That could make for an interesting marriage.

Another Chinese company—not state owned—that’s on an acquisition tear is HNA Group, which has struck more than $40 billion worth of deals in the last two years—including a $6.5 billion stake in Hilton Hotels, the acquisition of Ingram Micro and, most recently, the announcement of plans to buy Singapore logistics provider CWT. I met recently with Xiandong (Adam) Tan, CEO of HNA Group, who is quite clear about his company's ambition to become China’s largest truly global company. Watch this space, but enjoy the weekend first.

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