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Editorial : US investment ban will come home to roost

【明報專訊】US President Donald Trump's executive order that bars Americans from investing in so-called "companies with ties to the Chinese military" went into effect gradually yesterday (January 11), and the three biggest Chinese telecommunications companies were delisted by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). In Hong Kong, some warrants and other derivative products issued by US securities firms were also taken down from shelves prematurely. As Trump seeks revenge for his failure to win re-election, Washington hawks hostile to China think that pushing forth US-China decoupling will be an "effective way" to bash China. They have no hesitation at even employing "scorched-earth" tactics that harm both others and themselves. Those most immediately hit by the White House's investment ban are not Chinese companies but US investors who hold their stocks. The NYSE's flip-flopping regarding the delisting shows that Wall Street is reluctant to follow that if it can choose not to. With Trump's term still having a week or so to go, one cannot rule out the possibility that hawks in the US's right wing may have even more desperate manoeuvres against China. Although president-elect Joe Biden is relatively pragmatic, he still has to face the confines of anti-Chinese public opinion. It will be wishful thinking to believe that the new administration will undo all the reckless moves done during the Trump era.

Trump has tried to put the blame for his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic on China. But in the end, he still failed to reverse the failure of his re-election bid. His hostility towards China has kept rising. In the waning days of Trump's presidency, right-wing hawks are also trying to make the best use of his remaining time and power to roll out more rash and risky measures to batter China, so as to create a fait accompli for successor Biden to inherit. US State Secretary Mike Pompeo's recent announcement of the lifting of all restrictions on contacts between US officials and their Taiwanese counterparts is exactly an example of such effort. Trump's issuance of the executive order prohibiting investment in so-called "companies with ties to the Chinese military" after the presidential election is another example.

The investment ban is highly arbitrary. The definition of "ties to the Chinese military" is basically just up to the US government. Over the past fortnight, the NYSE has reversed its stance repeatedly regarding the delisting of the Chinese telecom trio. One major reason for that is the ambiguity over the executive order and the existence of grey areas. At one time, the NYSE believed that China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom can be free from the ban and retracted its decision of delisting the trio early last week. According to US media, the White House was very unsatisfied with this and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin phoned the senior management of the NYSE, emphasising that the three Chinese telecom companies are included in the ban. The NYSE had no choice but to pull yet another U-turn to go ahead with the decision of delisting.

A senior officer of a US investment management company said China Mobile is one of the strongest telecommunications companies in the world and he felt helpless about the ban. Shares including those of China Mobile and China Unicom have been on a roller-coaster ride over the past few days. Many US investors were forced to sell all the shares they held at low price before the ban took effect. Some corporate investors criticised that the largest victims of the hasty enforcement of the ban are US shareholders. No matter how it was glorified on the outside, the bashing of Chinese companies by Washington is in effect an act of smashing its own reputation as the "defender of free economy".

明報社評2021.01.12:美投資禁令損人害己 金融脫鈎不惜「攬炒」

美國總統特朗普發布行政命令,禁止投資所謂「與中國軍方有關聯的企業」,昨天開始逐步生效,中國三大電訊公司被紐交所除牌;在香港,一些美資券商的窩輪衍生產品亦要提早下架。特朗普連任失敗要「復仇」,華府鷹派敵視中國,認為推動中美脫鈎就是打擊中國的「有效方法」,已到了不惜「攬炒」損人害己的地步。白宮的投資禁令,即時最受打擊的,不是中國企業,而是持貨的美國投資者,紐交所就「除牌」一事反覆再三,說明若有選擇,華爾街也不想這樣做。特朗普任期尚餘一周多,不排除右翼鷹派對華還有更多豁出去的操作;總統當選人拜登雖然相對務實,然而受制於反華輿情,以為新政府會逆轉特朗普時代的鹵莽措施,容易流於一廂情願。

特朗普應對疫情不力,企圖諉過於華,最終仍未能扭轉大選敗局。特朗普對華敵意不斷升級,右翼鷹派眼見特朗普在任日子所餘無幾,亦希望把握時間,盡量利用手上權力,推出更多冒進兼危險的措施打擊中國,設法製造既成事實,留給繼任的拜登,日前美國國務卿蓬佩奧宣布解除所有美台交往限制,正是其一;大選後特朗普發出行政命令,禁止投資所謂「與中國軍方有關聯的企業」,則是另一例子。

白宮這一投資禁令,有很大的任意性,何謂「與中國軍方有關聯」,基本上就是美國政府說了算,紐交所就中國三大電訊公司在美國除牌一事,過去兩周再三反覆,一大原因便是因為相關行政命令不清不楚,存在灰色地帶,紐交所一度認為中國移動、中國聯通和中國電信可以不受影響,上周初撤回除牌決定。根據美國傳媒說法,白宮對此大為不滿,財長梅努欽親電紐交所高層,強調投資禁令包括這3間中國電訊公司,紐交所唯有朝令夕改,恢復除牌決定。

有美國投資管理公司高層形容,中移動是全球其中一間最有實力的電訊公司,對於禁令感到無奈。過去數天,中移動、聯通等的股價大上大落,不少美國投資者被迫趕在禁令生效前低價盡沽手上持股,有機構投資者批評,禁令倉卒實施,最受害是美國的股東。華府打壓中國企業,不管外表如何包裝,實際也是自拆「自由經濟捍衛者」招牌。

■Glossary 生字

hawk : a person who advocates an aggressive or warlike policy, especially in foreign affairs

bash : to strike hard and violently

confines : limits or borders

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