US President Donald Trump. Firms from countries including US, Europe, Japan, South Korea and Singapore are said to be keen to invest in China’s financial sector. Photo: AFP
US President Donald Trump. Firms from countries including US, Europe, Japan, South Korea and Singapore are said to be keen to invest in China’s financial sector. Photo: AFP

Donald Trump’s trade war threat unlikely to derail China financial-industry opening

The US is said to be considering clamping down on Chinese investments and imposing levies on a range of imports to punish Beijing for alleged theft of intellectual property.

Hong Kong/Shanghai: China will probably stay true to its pledge to further open its financial industry to foreign companies, even as the Trump administration ratchets up the threat of a trade war.

The US government is said to be considering clamping down on Chinese investments and imposing levies on a range of imports to punish Beijing for alleged theft of intellectual property. Would China retaliate by going back on its vow—made by a trusted aide of President Xi Jinping before a global audience at Davos—to remove foreign ownership limits on banks and allow overseas firms to take majority stakes in local securities firms?

Any such fears would be unfounded, according to bankers, economists, lawyers and researchers who’ve studied China.

“China does these things not because of trying to please international audiences. It does it because it thinks it’d be in the better interest of China," said James Stent, who’s spent more than a decade on the boards of two Chinese lenders. “I shouldn’t think that they would change their views a great deal because of a trade spat with America."

Firms from countries including in Europe, Japan, South Korea and Singapore are keen to invest in China’s financial sector, according to Stent, who has also authored a book called ‘China’s Banking Transformation: The Untold Story,’ about lessons gleaned from inside the nation’s banking system. Morgan Stanley is among US banks that have indicated interest in investing more in their local securities joint ventures.

China will press ahead with its plans for more foreign investment because it offers Xi an opportunity to take on greater leadership in the region, said Paul Schulte, chairman of Hong Kong-based Schulte Research, an independent research firm that focuses on the financial industry. The opening of the sector is already “baked in the cake" given that the plan has wound its way through the State Council and many ministries, he said.

“China is marching forward with a coherent plan in the Far East and in Asia for their own agenda," Schulte said, ruling out the prospect of retaliation. “China is not going to play that game."

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Hu Yifan, chief economist for China at UBS Wealth Management, predicts China would take any retaliatory steps only after the US has announced concrete actions, and those would target US banks in the financial services sector, where the US has a surplus. In such a case, European and Asian banks would benefit at the expense of American lenders.

“If that happens, US bankers might start lobbying the Trump administration," Hu said.

China chose Liu He to unveil its pledge at the World Economic Forum this January, a year in which China marks the 40th anniversary of its shift away from a closed Communist system. Liu is a Harvard-educated technocrat who’s considered the chief architect of Xi’s push to let the market have a bigger say in the economy.

That push will continue, said John Xu, Shanghai-based partner at Linklaters LLP. “The US-China trade tensions are unlikely to affect the overall pace of reform regarding the opening of China’s financial market." Bloomberg.

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