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|Articles - April 2011|
|Tuesday, March 22, 2011|
Page 6 of 8With a flood of Chinese capital poised to wash over Oregon’s weakened economy, familiar concerns are resurfacing. Bill Wyatt, who has traveled to China and back 25 times since taking over as executive director of the Port of Portland in 2001, says the prevailing tension around China’s rise reminds him of worries of Japanese dominance during the 1980s, “You hear a lot of questions like ‘What does it mean? Where are we headed? Are they going to eat our lunch?’”
Up to this point, relatively few Oregon assets have passed into Chinese hands. But experts expect that to change over time. Raymond Cheung, a partner at Portland accounting firm Geffen Mesher who represented the Hong Kong-based investors who bought the Halsey pulp mill, says: “This is just the spark. You are going to see more and more acquisitions… We need more investments like this in Oregon because they will create jobs and we need the jobs.”
Cheung was born and raised in Hong Kong. When he moved to the U.S. in 1993 to attend George Fox University, none of his friends and family knew of Oregon. He was the only Chinese speaker at the entire university, and the language barrier did not make for an easy college experience. But his hard work is paying off. Cheung is fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, and he is a certified public accountant in Hong Kong as well as in the U.S. He was the first Chinese speaker to make partner at Geffen, and his international business is growing rapidly.
“Next we will see Chinese mutual funds and venture capital groups investing,” he predicts. “They will be coming in to buy.”
Akana Ma, chair of Ater Wynne’s global trade group in Portland, agrees with that assessment. Ma represents “a number of investors purchasing assets in Oregon.” He doesn’t offer specifics other than to say, “A lot of Chinese companies are actively scanning the horizon for steel mills, pulp and paper mills and other types of factories that still have useful lives.”
Ma recently helped a Chinese manufacturer of power generation equipment, Wuxi Kipor Power, set up an office in Portland in February. He is also involved in EB-5 projects in Washington state as well as Oregon.
Wyatt, like most observers, sees the trend as inevitable. “Trade is going to become more global, not less,” he says. The port has formed a relationship with one of the largest ports in the world, in Tianjin, and will begin exchanging executives this year. Wyatt expects business and travel connections between Oregon and China to grow steadily, eventually bringing direct flights. “In a 10-year time period, [direct flights are] likely.”
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Earlier this month, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) announced they were going to devalue their currency, the Renminbi. While the amount of the targeted change was to be roughly 2 percent, investors read a lot more into the move. The Renminbi had been gradually appreciating against the U.S. dollar (see chart) as to attempt to alleviate concerns of being labeled a currency manipulator.
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