Unscripted reply shows China's foreign M&A caution

BEIJING, March 12 Thu Mar 12, 2009 9:03am EDT

BEIJING, March 12 (Reuters) - Amid the scripted discussions and slogan-heavy speeches that characterise China's annual parliament, a brief off-the-cuff exchange may have been far more telling about the overseas ambitions of the giant economy.

Vice-Premier Wang Qishan warned against a rush to invest abroad and called instead for prudence when Xiang Wenbo, president of machinery maker Sany (600031.SS), said the financial crisis gave Chinese firms a perfect chance to hunt for foreign acquisitions.

That "splash of cold water", as Wang's reply has been called by the Chinese media, was delivered on Monday, but reports of it are still building up to a crescendo. A leading business newspaper, the Economic Observer, featured the story on its website on Thursday (www.eeo.com.cn).

At a session for parliamentary representatives from Hunan, the central province where Sany is based, Xiang said money was the obstacle to overseas deals and that the firm hoped for credit support from the government.

Wang, who is responsible for economic and financial affairs in the Chinese cabinet, began his reply with flattery.

"You are someone who is worthy to have come from the same soil as Chairman Mao," Wang said. "Like a Hunanese fighter, you really do not lack confidence in taking on the financial crisis and you have the manner of the Chairman when he was waging revolution."

But, according to published accounts, Wang changed his tone:

"Are you certain of your managerial skill? Have you analysed the cultural differences between the two sides? Do you understand local labour relations?

"If the engineer of your partner resigns, don't tell me that you would send people over from Changsha (the Hunan capital) and get the entire company to start speaking Hunanese? If you don't 'know yourself and know your opponent', then your confidence scares me," he said.

'RESEARCH YOUR TARGET'

Wang concluded with an appeal for due diligence.

"If you want money, I can give it to you," he told Sany's Xiang. "But you first have to research your acquisition target very well and then I will give you a reply.

China's potential investment clout on the world stage was illustrated in February, when the country's firms and state-owned banks directed more than $50 billion into Russian and Brazilian oil deals and stakes in Australian mining firms Rio Tinto (RIO.AX)(RIO.L) and OZ Minerals (OZL.AX).

Outbound mergers and acquisitions (M&A) by Chinese companies leapt 64 percent last year to $47.8 billion, Thomson Reuters data showed.

Most deals, however, have focused on securing access to natural resources rather than establishing global firms -- and brands -- that would require more complex management.

Sany is among the growing ranks of Chinese machinery makers building up a presence overseas in hopes of eventually competing with global leaders such as Caterpillar Inc (CAT.N).

It has unveiled plans to build a $100 million U.S. plant near Atlanta to assemble concrete mixers, which would make it the first Chinese machinery maker to set up shop in the North American market.

Chinese regulators have also approved its plans to build a 100 million euro ($128 million) research and manufacturing facility in Germany.

The National People's Congress, China's largely ceremonial parliament, concludes on Friday after meeting for nine days. ($1=.7797 Euro) (Reporting by Simon Rabinovitch; Editing by Erica Billingham)

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