Tue, Dec 11, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Scientist’s death hurts China’s technology quest in US

By Shuli Ren  /  Bloomberg Opinion

The death of a prominent Chinese scientist in the US has passed comparatively unnoticed beside the blizzard of global headlines devoted to the Huawei dispute, yet the tragedy bears upon another important aspect of Beijing’s quest for technological leadership.

Zhang Shoucheng (張首晟), an internationally recognized Stanford University physicist and venture capitalist, died on Dec. 1, the same day that the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies was arrested in Vancouver.

Zhang had been battling depression, the South China Morning Post reported, citing an e-mail from the Shanghai-born scientist’s family.

In a later statement, the family said there was no truth in speculation on Chinese social media that Zhang’s death was connected to a possible US government investigation into Zhang’s venture capital fund, the newspaper reported.

The scientist, who had been tipped as a future Nobel Prize winner for his work on quantum physics, founded a US$400 million fund that invests in Silicon Valley start-ups and was helping US-trained Chinese researchers to return to China.

His death highlights a deep pool of Beijing-backed money that has been passing under the public radar in the US.

Consider the fund Zhang founded. Danhua Capital was cited in a report last month by the Office of the US Trade Representative after an investigation into China’s technology policies and practices.

The way the office sees it, China is infiltrating Silicon Valley. From 2015 to last year, 10 to 16 percent of venture capital deals counted Chinese investors as participants.

The report singled out Zhang’s firm as an example of the new tactics China is using to obtain US technology. The fund lists 113 US companies in its portfolio, most falling within emerging sectors that the Chinese government has identified as strategic priorities, according to the report.

At least one “has reportedly decided to reduce operations in Silicon Valley and open operations in China,” it said.

For years, China relied on government subsidies to encourage development of key industries.

However, starting in 2014, subsidies gave way to so-called “guidance funds,” or Chinese state-backed funds of funds that act like venture capital and private equity firms.

As of the first half of the year, various levels of the government had established 1,171 guidance funds, aiming to raise and deploy a staggering 5.9 trillion yuan (US$858 billion).

Danhua Capital, also known as Digital Horizon Capital, is a major beneficiary of China’s shift into guidance funds. It counts Zhongguancun Development Group, a state-backed investment fund with more than 10 billion yuan in assets, as a major investor. The firm invests in artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain and other disruptive technology sectors.

To be sure, there is no evidence that Danhua Capital has been following Beijing’s bidding and government-backed venture capital funds are not a Chinese invention.

Beijing might have been inspired by the US, where the Small Business Innovation Research program made early investments in Apple Inc and Intel Corp.

US Small Business Investment Co has US$26 billion in assets under management.

However, these Chinese state-backed funds make the US government nervous.

The scale is unprecedented. For instance, the US$21 billion China Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund, established in September 2014 and nicknamed the “Big Fund,” is reportedly raising another US$47 billion this year. In addition, there is already evidence that shows China is abandoning fund-of-funds best practices.

This story has been viewed 1863 times.

Comments will be moderated. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned.

TOP top