China's ballooning stakes in British assets

Mainland and Hong Kong companies and investors have spent at least 135 billion (HK$1.45 trillion) on British assets, including infrastructure businesses and top-ranked firms, according to a report. Businesses and investors based in China or Hong Kong own stakes in key infrastructure businesses such...

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Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Mainland and Hong Kong companies and investors have spent at least 135 billion (HK$1.45 trillion) on British assets, including infrastructure businesses and top-ranked firms, according to a report.

Businesses and investors based in China or Hong Kong own stakes in key infrastructure businesses such as Heathrow Airport, Thames Water and UK Power Networks, according to the Sunday Times.

Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, the report said, owns energy firm UK Power Networks, water supply holding company Northrumbian Water, rail firm Eversholt and leading pub retailer and brewer Greene King.

It said China Investment Corp has stakes in Heathrow Airport and warehouse and logistics firm Logicor. And China General Nuclear Power has a 33.5 percent stake in Hinkley Point C Nuclear Power Plant.

It added that mainland and Hong Kong investors have nearly 57 billion in shares in FTSE 100 companies and 10 billion worth of property and at least 17 private schools, which the Mail on Sunday previously said included the prestigious Thetford Grammar School and Bournemouth Collegiate School.

Among properties snapped up by buyers from China and Hong Kong are City landmarks known as the Walkie Talkie and the Cheesegrater.

Almost half of the purchases uncovered in the Sunday Times' investigation with data provider Argus Vicker are said to have taken place in the last two years. And at least 44 billion of the purchases are by state-owned businesses. It said due to the difficulty in tracing some investments the total figure could be far higher than 135 billion.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, interviewed by the Sunday Times, said the research showed successive governments had been "asleep on the watch."

He added: "This evidence today shows how dangerously we are sailing towards Chinese control of key aspects of our business."

The Mail on Sunday earlier said many independent schools left in dire financial straits by the pandemic are being targeted by Chinese investors.

Experts, it said, anticipate a "feeding frenzy" as firms, including some run by members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, seek to expand their influence over Britain's education system.

A key player in the market is Bright Scholar, which bought a number of schools and colleges in 2018 and 2019. It is owned by Yang Huiyan, who is reportedly worth 20 billion, making her Asia's richest woman, and was founded by her father Yang Guoqiang, a member of the party's highest- ranking advisory council.

Yang, 39, is the boss of Country Garden Group, Bright Scholar's parent company.

Last year it was revealed by the Mail on Sunday that loyal members of the party were working in British consulates, universities and for some of Britain's leading companies.

While there is no evidence that anyone on the party membership list has spied for China - and many sign up simply to boost their career prospects - experts said it defies credulity that some are not involved in espionage, the report said.