The Singapore and Chinese Governments are continuing to show a remarkable appetite for high profile global investments after agreeing to stump up more than $20 billion to become the largest shareholders in leading British bank Barclays to help fund its takeover of Dutch rival ABN Amro.
Having pumped $US3 billion last month into the float of leading US private equity firm Blackstone in May, the Chinese authorities, through the China Development Bank, is now injecting up to $15 billion into Barclays whilst Singapore’s Temasek Holdings is writing a cheque for more than $5 billion to buy a 2.1% stake.
Britain and Australia together have the world’s two most liberal regimes when it comes to foreign ownership, but surely such moves by undemocratic countries will be challenged at some point.
The scale of Singapore’s $30 billion plunge into Australia was pulled together publicly for the first time (by me) in this week’s Sunday Age – but there’s barely been a ripple in response.
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Whilst we’re happy for them to be the largest shareholder in ABC Learning, own one third of Melbourne’s most prestigious shopping complex, deliver the electricity to Parliament House in Canberra and even transmit sensitive defence information across the Optus satellites, Peter Costello did draw the line at a proposed Singapore takeover of Westpac in 2000.
Similarly, Qantas has used its notorious lobbying power in Canberra to cost Singapore Airlines plenty in recent years, but they’ve now returned through Tiger Airways to try and inflict some serious damage on our national airline.
What we’re seeing here is two of the world’s biggest public sector savers – which have scooped up vast pools of public savings in part through repression and exploitation of their citizens – now trying to buy into trophy assets all over the world.
Many American politicians objected to Dubai’s DP World buying P&O’s US ports, but there wasn’t a ripple of protest out of the UK or Australia, which both have a bipartisan open door approach to foreign investment.
Similarly, no one objected to a Macquarie Bank consortium spending $20 billion buying Thames Water last year, but the Millionaire’s Factory can expect plenty of attention if they do the wrong thing by customers in the current once in a life time floods besieging parts of England.
Whilst former New Zealand foreign minister Winston Peter is already railing against Dubai’s bid to take over Auckland Airport, we rarely hear such sentiments from Australian politicians.
No-one has said boo about Singapore’s extraordinary push into Australia, when similar moves into Thailand caused a military coup last year. The same applies to China effectively bankrolling Twiggy Forrest’s Fortescue Metals.
Surely it’s okay to at least debate these things – especially given Australia has sold off more of its farm than virtually any other first world country.