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Chinese Companies Embark on Shopping Spree in Europe
Brief:Many business leaders go shopping for European companies. Experts are predicting a surge of overseas takeovers by Chinese companies over the next decade.
The chairman of China's biggest food company was blunt. "We need to buy a top-three European food company," Wang Zong Nan told two consultants over Sunday brunch at a downtown Sheraton hotel here.

Mr. Wang, chairman of Bright Food Group, is among Chinese business leaders going shopping for European companies. Their ambitions, encouraged by the government in Beijing, have the potential to reshape global trade and investment flows in coming years and are already creating anxieties in the European Union.

The world's top exporting nation amassed $2.7 trillion in aggregate domestic savings by the end of 2009, a pot likely to grow sixfold by 2020, according to the World Bank. Experts are predicting a surge of overseas takeovers by Chinese companies over the next decade. A five-year plan Beijing approved in March calls for establishing "international sales networks and brand names."

Chinese companies' investment in European businesses, which totaled just $853 million in 2003-05, surged to $43.9 billion in 2008 through 2010, according to Dealogic, a London consultancy. The burst gave Chinese companies control of 118 European businesses.

In the latest deal, Chinese personal-computer maker Lenovo Group Ltd. last week agreed to buy 37% of Medion AG, a German computer and consumer-electronics company, and will launch a public offer for enough additional shares to gain control.

While some of the deals make headlines, such as last year's purchase of Volvo auto operations from Ford Motor Co. by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, Chinese companies have also quietly acquired control of more than 100 smaller European businesses, ranging from a Czech cigarette company to a Dutch pharmaceuticals firm to a British wood producer. The frequency of these takeovers is increasing.

Thilo Hanemann, research director at New York consultancy Rhodium Group, predicts Chinese companies will invest more than $1 trillion overseas between now and 2020 and says that besides their well-known interest in natural resources, Chinese companies "are increasingly looking for opportunities in mature markets."

For the most part, Chinese investment has been welcomed in Europe as a source of capital, but in a few places, it has unleashed tensions. The EU's industry commissioner, Antonio Tajani, and some officials of southern-tier EU countries like Spain, Italy and France say they worry that Chinese companies are buying European businesses to strip them of their technology.

One reason Chinese business leaders cite for favoring Europe: Unlike America, where the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. can block deals involving foreign direct investment on national-security grounds, EU regulators have no say on money coming in to buy businesses.
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