China reportedly holds more than $1.2 trillion in U.S. Treasury bonds. Compared to that massive sum, the $4.7 billion that a Chinese company bid last week to acquire Virginia-based Smithfield Foods sounds like chicken change.
The proposed takeover by Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. also sounds like a sweet deal for stockholders of America’s largest pork-producing enterprise: Last week’s news of the pending sale, which experts predict will get the shareholder and regulator approval needed to go through, elevated the price of a Smithfield share by more than 27 percent.
And it’s unlikely to be a topic of concern when President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday and Saturday in California.
But Robert Herzstein, who served as U.S. undersecretary of commerce under President Jimmy Carter, sounded some sour notes on the Smithfield sale in a Washington Post guest column last week,
Mr. Herzstein wrote that a Shuanghui purchase of Smithfield would pose “real threats,” including food safety and technology transfer. He pointed out that American food safety depends heavily on “voluntary compliance, not just enforcement.”
In contrast, he warned: “Reports of egregious food adulteration in China suggest a culture where companies have little concern for safety and health standards.”
However, Shuanghui International chairman Wan Long told Bloomberg News on Monday: “The question of food safety, whether it’s to American consumers or Chinese consumers, is a big deal. Our nation has a tighter and tighter grip over food safety.”
Even if you buy that pitch, consider Mr. Herzstein’s next objection:
“American companies seeking to invest and sell in China’s state-dominated economy have been forced to share their intellectual property and manufacturing and marketing know-how with Chinese competitors.”
Sunday’s New York Times reported that “a group of savvy investors and global deal makers who hold a substantial stake” in Shuanghui are behind the Smithfield bid. Among those high-stakes operators: “Goldman Sachs, CDH Investments, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund and New Horizon Capital, a private equity firm co-founded by the son of the former Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao.”
Obviously, the old saying “It’s a small world” has taken on a new meaning in this age of ever-expanding economic globalization.
And in this unappetizing case, so has the old saying “Bringing home the bacon.”