The future looks uncertain for 100,000 US workers employed by Chinese companies

When the student becomes the teacher.
When the student becomes the teacher.
Image: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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Chinese companies currently employ more than 100,000 workers in the US, over 10 times more than a decade ago, thanks to a rise in Chinese investment in recent years.

The majority of these employees are working in US companies that were acquired by Chinese enterprises, according to a Dec. 9 report (pdf, p. 41) by research firm Rhodium Group, prepared for the congressional US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Currently that investment is driven by private companies, but state-owned enterprises still play a big role, the report says, and both are highly susceptible to Chinese government intervention (p. 7).

Ominous comments from Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man and also a former commander in the People’s Liberation Army, suggest that many of those jobs could be in jeopardy because of US president-elect Donald Trump’s policy on China. On Dec. 10, Wang warned that the 20,000 US workers he employs won’t “have anything to eat” if Trump handles the US-China relationship poorly. Wang owns China’s Dalian Wanda, the largest owner of movie theaters in the US after several acquisitions, and the parent company of Jurassic World studio Legendary Entertainment.

Trump has shaken US-China relations in recent weeks by taking a call from Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen, and threatening to move closer to Taipei as a bargaining chip in any negotiations with China. Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province, while the independently governed island defines itself as a separate nation. Trump has also lashed out at China for taking US jobs, and he’s accused Beijing (wrongly, it turns out) of manipulating its currency downward to keep exports cheap.

Energy is the leading US industry in terms of attracting Chinese investment. Chinese companies, mostly state-owned enterprises that must directly follow government policies, have invested $13.4 billion in US energy companies since 1990, according to a report released last month (pdf, p. 63) by Rhodium Group.

Wanda is China’s largest investor in the US since 2000, with pork producer WH Group (also known as Shuanghui Group) and technology company Lenovo also closing sizable deals.