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The nations have already levied billions in tariffs on each other’s goods. And Trump is considering an executive order to bar U.S. companies from using telecommunications equipment made by China’s Huawei and ZTE, which the U.S. government has accused of spying. CFIUS is emerging as another powerful cudgel. Led by the U.S. Treasury, it includes members from eight other government entities, including the departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security. The secretive committee does not disclose much about the deals it reviews. But its most recent annual report said Chinese investors made 74 CFIUS filings from 2013 to 2015, the most of any nation. The president has the authority to make the final decision, but a thumbs-down from CFIUS is usually enough to doom a deal lion cufflinks.
Washington demonstrated its tougher stance even before the new law was passed, when Trump in March blocked a $117 billion hostile bid by Singapore-based Broadcom Ltd (AVGO.O) to acquire Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O) of San Diego. CFIUS said the takeover would weaken the United States in the race to develop next-generation wireless technology. A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment. In November, CFIUS rolled out a pilot program mandating that foreign investors notify the committee of any size investment in certain “critical technologies.” The scope of that term is still being defined, but a working list includes artificial intelligence, logistics technology, robotics and data analytics – the bread and butter of Silicon Valley lion cufflinks.
Research firm Rhodium predicted that up to three-quarters of Chinese venture investments would be subject to CFIUS review under the new rules. Just the threat of that scrutiny has caused some Chinese investors to reconsider lion cufflinks. Peter Kuo, whose firm, Silicon Valley Global, connects Chinese investors with U.S. startups, said his business has slumped dramatically. In 2018, he said not a single Chinese investor took a stake in the companies he shopped to them. “CFIUS didn’t kill our organization, but it hampered a lot of startups, and most of them are American startups,” Kuo said..
Some security experts applaud what they call long-overdue protections for U.S. startups. “What we are concerned about is a limited number of bad actors who are phenomenally clever about how they can access our intellectual property,” said Bob Ackerman, founder of AllegisCyber, a venture capital firm based in San Francisco and Maryland that backs cyber security startups. Rhodium calculates that, on average, 21 percent of Chinese venture investment in the United States from 2000 through 2017 came from state-owned funds, which are controlled at least in part by the Chinese government. In 2018, that figure surged to 41 percent lion cufflinks.
But some tech industry players say Washington is casting too wide a net in its zeal to check Beijing. “A lot of innocent business people are getting” caught up in the administration’s spat with China, said Wei Guo, the China-born founding partner of Silicon Valley firm UpHonest Capital, whose funding comes mostly from foreign investors with ties to China lion cufflinks. Adding to Silicon Valley’s anxiety, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken a more active role in policing Chinese investment..