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Protectionism just part of the story as failed overseas Chinese deals hit new high

Rising protectionism is only partially responsible for this year's record number of failed Chinese overseas deals, Baker McKenzie's mergers and acquisitions partner, Tim Gee, told CNBC.

A new report published Monday by the international law firm indicates that failed overseas acquisitions by Chinese investors have hit unprecedented levels, with 30 deals worth almost $75 billion cancelled last year across the U.S. and Europe.

However this is as much a reflection of the overall surge in demand from Chinese foreign direct investors in "world-class assets" as it is an indication of the growing swell of protectionist policies, according to Gee.

The study shows that in 2016 Chinese direct investment in the U.S. and Europe more than doubled to a new record of $94.2 billion.

A Chinese magazine with a front page story naming US President-elect Donald Trump as their Person of the Year is seen at a news stand in Beijing on December 29, 2016.
Greg Baker | AFP | Getty Images
A Chinese magazine with a front page story naming US President-elect Donald Trump as their Person of the Year is seen at a news stand in Beijing on December 29, 2016.

There's an "increase in cancelled deals simply because the Chinese are now doing more deals," Gee told CNBC Monday.

While unlikely to be unique to 2016, the growing number of cancellations are an indication of increased competition as well as skepticism from Western governments on China's expanding global reach.

Gee warned confusing protectionist rhetoric fired up by opposition parties with actual government policy and said that, in Europe in particular, there has been little so far by way of an active drive to prevent Chinese transactions.

The hike in failed deals also has to do with a tightening of regulation within China, Gee suggested, as the authorities seek to manage their currency and prevent capital flight.

On this basis, there will inevitably be "increased scrutiny of large transactions over $1 billion and also those perceived to be purely financial rather than backed by industrial logic."

Whereas Chinese overseas investment has historically come from state-owned enterprise, Gee said outbound investment is now increasingly originating from private enterprises.