BEIJING/WASHINGTON - Chinese companies are making their way into the United States, and their influence can be felt in all facets of life.
When you walk into a new convenience store, it may be run by a Chinese couple speaking broken English; when you enter a furniture store, the manager greeting you might be Chinese and he may own five other stores nearby; even when the gas company comes to change your meter, you may notice that the new meter has Chinese characters on it.
On Nov 1, 2010, the Ministry of Commerce issued a report showing China's outbound direct investment in 2009 reached $56.5 billion, the fifth largest in the world. From 2002 to 2009, China's outbound direct investment grew by 54 percent annually.
While some of the investment came from State-owned companies, the majority came from the private sector.
Chinese investments come into the US in several ways: mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures with domestic companies, buying small businesses and building new factories.
"Opportunities for investment (into the US) will last for a long time, perhaps 30 to 50 years," said Lin Shunjie, deputy secretary-general of the China Chamber of International Commerce.
Lin said what private enterprises do is surprisingly diversified. While State-owned companies might not want to invest in areas with limited returns, private companies seem willing to invest in projects that bring them consistent returns.
SANY Group Co Ltd, the largest construction equipment manufacturer in China and one of the top 10 in the world, is not too dissimilar from many other ambitious Chinese companies.
"After the company went public in 2003 on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, we entered a new phase of development that required us to explore more resources worldwide," Tang Jianguo, president of SANY America, told China Daily.
"The US is home to the leading heavy equipment manufacturers and it has the best technology, talent and market, and I believe the company can benefit from investments in the US."
Based on an agreement with the Georgia state government in 2006, the company established a factory on 92 hectares and will invest more than $100 million over the next few years. Company managers said they expect to create about 600 jobs in the state.
The China Chamber of International Commerce said 70 to 80 percent of its 300 members have overseas investments, with 20 to 30 percent of them investing in the US.
One main reason for the investments is that with the onset of the global financial crisis, Chinese companies, especially exporters, are finding it harder to export to the US. As the yuan appreciates, the dollars they accumulated from exports are losing their value, pushing companies to find an outlet for their money. The US is an optimal destination.
"The US is desperately in need of investments, which are what Chinese enterprises possess," said Chen Yongjun, deputy director of the business school at Renmin University of China in Beijing. "It is the best time for Chinese companies to invest in the US. Previously, US companies were worried that their technology would be stolen when they brought their technology into China. But if we invest in the US, we become stakeholders and will protect our intellectual property rights, creating less concerns for US partners."
Lin said it is also a good opportunity to rebuild Chinese brands. "For decades, Chinese products have been synonymous with being cheap and of low quality, just like Japanese products were in the 1970s. It was the only message conveyed to American consumers. If we let it be, it will also take us 30 years, like the Japanese, to eliminate that and rebuild brands. Through manufacturing in the US, we might rebuild our brands in 20 years."
To many private enterprises, investing in the US is a wise move since they will become part of a local company and can label their products "made in the USA". And since labor is much more expensive in the US than in China, most investments go to technology-intensive industries, rather than consumer products.
"We don't advise all types of Chinese companies to invest in the US since many of them may not survive. Companies should alter their production models and add value to their products first before they consider investing overseas," Lin said.