US protectionism lends Europe opportunity for Chinese investment, says HSBC vice-chairman

HSBC global banking vice-chairman Kevan Watts says US ‘protectionist tendencies’ lend Europe an opportunity to win investment from China

HSBC vice-chairman of global banking Kevan Watts has claimed US "protectionist tendencies" could give Europe an opportunity to garner investment from China.

US fears and sensitivities mean China could look to finance interests in Europe, said Watts.

As well as running global banking at HSBC and working at US firm Merrill Lynch for 29 years, Watts is one of the founding members of the International Advisory Council for Chinese networking giant Huawei.

Watts claimed the US had always been “the natural destination” for Chinese investment, “reflecting obviously the immense opportunity their economy offers but also the shop window of the pacific coast line of the United States.”

But current political attitudes could put Chinese companies off investing there and present a chance for Europe to become the go-to continent.

“I think Europe has a chance of attracting relatively more Chinese investment as we go ahead because the US could be less welcoming,” Watts said during an event at Huawei’s R&D centre in Stockholm, Sweden.

“I think it may be a little more challenging politically for the US to adapt to a larger and different China, whereas in Europe the nuances between individual European countries can create competition between them to attract the investment.”

Watts admitted Europe might have been overlooked by the Chinese in the past but believed things were changing, especially when it came to technology.

Watts told Computer Weekly: “In ICT, the US is particularly sensitive but, in many ways, it is just sensitive to foreign investment. 

"It is sensitive to China because China is growing fast and is increasingly the second biggest economy, even if it is a lot smaller than the US, and this creates sensitivities in the US.”

Watts said he believed the overall attitude of politicians would probably side with getting the cash into the economy rather than turning it away, but pointed to “protectionist tendencies” pushing the investment away.

Watts concluded: “There are those with protectionist tendencies in the US and in that context I think China is likely to retract a greater-than-average degree of investment.”

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