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Xi's US Visit Comes Amid Economic Slump, Record Chinese-US Investment

  • Chris Hannas

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping offers a toast after delivering a speech during a reception to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender during World War II in Beijing.

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping offers a toast after delivering a speech during a reception to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender during World War II in Beijing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping makes his first official visit to the United States later this month while the world focuses on concerns about his country's economic growth, but also at a time when Chinese investment in the U.S. has never been higher.

Data from the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows investment by Chinese entities reached $9.5 billion last year, up from $3.3 billion in 2010 and just $385 million in 2002.

A report from the New York-based Rhodium Group said the first half of this year featured a record $6.4 billion in investment, with more than half of the funding going toward the real estate and hospitality sectors.

Rhodium and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations (NCUSCR) teamed up on a report released earlier this year that said the BEA data actually undercounts Chinese investment, and that the 2014 total was more like $12 billion.

Rising, but not #1

Either way, the numbers represent a massive increase in Chinese investment during the past 15 years. Yet on a global scale, China does not come close to being the biggest foreign investor in the U.S. Last year, foreign investment totaled $2.9 trillion dollars, according to the BEA.

Britain accounted for $445.8 billion in 2014, while Japan and the Netherlands each hit more than $300 billion in investments. Five other nations exceeded $200 billion. Chinese investment puts it on par with countries such as Finland, Israel and Denmark.

Inside the U.S., the Chinese investment cash reaches most of the country's 50 states, and industries ranging from food production and real estate to movie theaters and energy. The top 10 states each has more than $1 billion in investment.

Creating jobs

The Rhodium-NCUSCR report says Chinese-affiliated companies employ 80,000 workers as a result of investments dating back to 2000.

It cites California as the leader with $5.9 billion in Chinese investment, backed by the U.S. offices of online commerce giant Alibaba, as well as a Chinese development firm's ownership of a historic office building in San Francisco's financial district that counts video game streaming company Twitch among its tenants.

Texas ranks second with $5.6 billion. Investments there include a heavy focus on energy, one of the state's big economic drivers. China's National Offshore Oil Corporation has a subsidiary in Houston, while Chinese telecom company Huawei operates offices just north of Dallas. Tianjin Pipe is building an aluminum pipe plant on the Gulf Coast that it says will eventually employ between 600 and 800 people.

In North Carolina, the so-called Research Triangle in the Raleigh-Durham area leads the nation in total Chinese investment, accounting for $3.6 billion of the state's $5.5 billion since 2000. The proximity to a number of major universities and technological and medical research companies is a big draw for workers and investment, including the Chinese-owned computer maker Lenovo. A Chinese firm also owns Smithfield foods, a massive distributor based in North Carolina with plants in several other states.

Smithfield has operations in Illinois, a state that accounts for $4 billion in Chinese investment. That includes cell phone giant Motorola, which has its headquarters just outside of Chicago. The Chicago area itself ranks second in terms of localities with the most investment, accounting for more than $3 billion.

Diverse investments

Virginia is another state with a large Smithfield presence to help account for $2.2 billion in Chinese investment. The state is also home to a subsidiary of the Shandong Tranlin Paper Company, which according to the company's website is building its first U.S. advanced manufacturing facility outside the state's capital. It plans to employ 2,000 workers there by 2020.

Still more Smithfield operations are located in Kansas, which as a state has brought in $2 billion in investments since 2000. Another key driver there was China-based Dalian Wanda Group's 2012 purchase of AMC Entertainment, a company headquartered in Kansas City that operates more than 300 movie theaters in the United States and Canada.

New York City follows just behind Chicago with $2.25 billion of New York state's $3.8 billion. Real estate is a major driver of investment there, such as Anbang Insurance Group's deal last year to purchase the storied Waldorf Astoria hotel. The Rhodium-NCUSCR report says New York is home to 120 Chinese-owned entities in all, with others focused on the state's key financial industry.

Investments in Massachusetts have totaled $2 billion, including Huaneng Group's 50 percent stake in power company Intergen, based in Burlington.

Michigan and Oklahoma close out the top 10 states for Chinese investment, with each accounting for $1.6 billion in the past 15 years. Michigan is home to a Chinese-owned helicopter company and multiple auto parts manufacturers, while in Oklahoma, China's Sinopec has a joint operation with Chesapeake Energy.

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