China isn't discouraging overseas investment, only regulating it, Beijing-backed think tanker says

Key Points
  • Chinese authorities are regulating, not discouraging, overseas investments made by local corporates, the director general of the ICC-NDRC said
  • High profile Chinese companies that have made foreign acquisitions in recent years include Dalian Wanda, Fosun International and Anbang Insurance
China not discouraging overseas investment: ICC-NDRC
China not discouraging overseas investment: ICC-NDRC

Several high profile Chinese firms may be on the receiving end of government scrutiny over their overseas acquisitions, but the authorities are not cracking down on foreign investments, a Beijing-backed think tanker said.

"The Chinese government is not discouraging overseas investment. It's just that the government has started regulating overseas investment," Cao Wenlian, director general of the International Cooperation Center of the National Development and Reform Commission (ICC-NDRC), told CNBC.

The think tank falls under the purview of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), a government agency that heads up economic and social policy in China.

As there were risks associated with Chinese firms making foreign investments, it was part of the government's role to control and fend off risks, Cao explained. "That might make the outside world feel that the Chinese government is discouraging investments abroad. But it's not," he added.

"I believe every government is responsible for overseeing the behavior of their companies — to see that their leverage and other actions are in line with international laws," Cao said.

Regulators in the world's second-largest economy have been cranking up the heat on local corporates as part of a broader crackdown on financial risk and capital outflows before the 19th party congress in the fall.

Wanda Plaza in Yantai, Shandong Province, China. Foreign acquisitions made by property developer Dalian Wanda include cinema chain AMC and Legendary Entertainment.
Zhang Peng | LightRocket | Getty Images

Just last month, media reports said domestic banks had been asked by regulators to review their exposure to foreign debt incurred by some of China's most prolific buyers of foreign assets, including property developer Dalian Wanda, conglomerate Fosun International and insurance company Anbang.

Acquisitions made by those companies include Anbang's 2014 purchase of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, as well as Dalian Wanda's purchase of U.S. cinema chain AMC Theatres and Legendary Entertainment as part of its push into the entertainment business.

As recently as July 28, Fosun announced its intentions, together with Beijing Sanyuan Foods, to buy St Hubert, a French margarine manufacturer. The acquisition was "aligned" with government policy in China to drive innovation, Reuters quoted Fosun Chairman Guo Guangchang as saying.

Despite the additional scrutiny, Cao said he was not worried about a scale back in overseas Chinese investment.

"I still believe that a lot of countries see China currently as one of the biggest investors investing abroad," Cao said.

"To put it in layman's terms, if a man gets rich, it's easier for him to squander his wealth. So from the perspective of the Chinese government and our internal think tank, we should tighten the belts of companies and remind them that their investments need to be wiser."