Chinese capital controls trigger backlash after deals thwarted

Three straight years of capital outflows and yuan declines spurred China to ramp up controls in the second half of last year. But while pressure on the yuan has eased, the restrictions have also curbed overseas acquisitions.
Three straight years of capital outflows and yuan declines spurred China to ramp up controls in the second half of last year. But while pressure on the yuan has eased, the restrictions have also curbed overseas acquisitions.PHOTO; REUTERS

BEIJING • Chinese corporate chiefs are turning vocal critics of the nation's capital controls as the pile of scrapped deals grows.

While the restrictions have helped to alleviate pressure on the yuan, they have also curbed overseas acquisitions.

Corporate executives in Beijing during the National People's Congress (NPC) bemoaned the curbs, saying they are derailing expansion abroad - a key tenet of China's long-term economic ambitions.

"It's almost impossible to use the yuan to invest in overseas projects," investment firm Citic Capital Holdings' chairman and chief executive officer Zhang Yichen told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of China's political advisory body that runs concurrent to the NPC. "To say that capital controls don't have any impact - it's a lie."

Chinese drugmaker Creat Group's chairman Zheng Yuewen said separately that "the foreign exchange management is so strict now that it's almost impossible to move funds out".  

Mr Zhang Li, co-chairman of Guangzhou R&F Properties, said that "we see a lot of good projects overseas". But at the same time, "the capital controls are very strict now" and it is difficult to transmit funds abroad, he added.

The complaints reflect a tumble in foreign deals, with the US$19 billion (S$26.8 billion) of acquisitions abroad announced by Chinese companies so far this year amounting to a 74 per cent drop from a year ago, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The blow has seen Chinese executives join their counterparts abroad in criticising the communist leadership's restrictions.

China's leadership faces a balancing act in trying to stoke domestic companies' influence on the international stage while avoiding the kind of bad investments that Japanese firms became famous for in the 1980s.

The more immediate concern has been record outflows of capital that have only diminished in recent months after a steady tightening in oversight of and limits on cross-border transactions.

Three straight years of capital outflows and yuan declines spurred the authorities to ramp up controls in the second half of last year. The curbs have paid off - in December, the capital account saw its first net inflows since a mini-devaluation of the yuan in August 2015 - but the danger is collateral damage to businesses.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 08, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese capital controls trigger backlash after deals thwarted'. Print Edition | Subscribe