James Mei opened one of the first American law offices in China. // PHOTO BY LEAH NASH
Most of the early deals Mei worked on involved helping American companies to gain a foothold in China, manufacturing products at first and later selling them in China as Chinese buying power grew.
With time the money began flowing in both directions. “After years of attracting investment and double-digit growth, the Chinese shifted to outbound investment,” Mei says. State-owned Chinese powerhouses led the way, followed by smaller private groups such as Chen’s investors.
Mei has experience with the EB-5 program — he worked with a Taiwanese investor seven years ago to navigate the system and obtain green cards for his family — and he sees the logic behind the renewed interest in the program. In his view it grows from powerful trends: the lingering credit crunch that makes it hard to finance projects without new sources of money; the rising value of the Chinese currency driving greater buying power; an improved bureaucratic process for attracting foreign investment driven by need; and China’s one-child policy and the determination among the newly rich Chinese to get the absolute best for their children, including access to education in the U.S.
But the most important factor, as Mei sees it, is business acumen. “More and more people in China can afford to do this because they have achieved so much success,” he says. “They know how to make money.”
Mei traveled to China recently to meet with three huge Chinese firms interested in building high-speed rail lines connecting Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and Eugene and Seattle. He notes that Chinese engineers have completed more than 5,000 miles of tracks, giving China the largest high-speed rail network in the world. By comparison, the ongoing planning process for high-speed rail projects in the United States is expected to last about 25 years.