Restricting Chinese investment in UK technology will damage the sector: expert

LONDON, Nov. 3 (Xinhua) — Britain needs a balanced approach to protect national security while ensuring it remains an open and free economy with an attractive and predictable legal environment for foreign investment, said a column on the website of the British newspaper The Independent.

The article, written by co-vice chair of the UK-China Tech Forum Ting Zhang, said that IP (intellectual property) risks are always there for tech companies doing business overseas — but the risks are easily avoided with good corporate governance to ensure that foreign investors do not have access to trade secrets other than what has been agreed as part of the investment.

Britain already has tools to scrutinize foreign investment and acquisitions that raise national security concerns, and “even closer scrutiny would mean additional regulatory processes for the foreign investor which would, in turn, slow the process considerably and be counter-productive for export,” said Zhang in the article published Monday.

“It will likely put off investors who have other options, and they may not bother with the UK at all. On top of that, there will inevitably be additional compliance costs for businesses to understand the process and more reporting liabilities which they can well do without,” she noted.

Besides, there is “no evidence whatsoever to show that foreign investment, including that from China, is linked to any increased IP theft,” Zhang said.

“Chinese companies remain the top-paying customers for UK IPs. Additionally, having spent the last 20 years developing and protecting their own IPs, Chinese companies are now among the world’s largest patent applicants,” said Zhang.

“In fact, having a foreign investor is actually more likely to help protect IP. No investor wants to put their money into an asset and destroy it. On the contrary, some of the Chinese investors I know are careful to make introductions only to trusted partners in China and are the first to warn against potential infringing parties, in order to secure and protect their UK assets,” said Zhang.

She also pointed out that while U.S. investors typically require development facilities to be set up in the United States, Chinese investors are invariably more flexible and do not require this.

“They see it as a safer option to keep the facilities in the UK (to help protect against IP risks),” she said.

Quoting the Tou Ying Tracker 2019, which analyzed data from around 800 Chinese companies in Britain, the article said that they employed more than 71,000 people (up from 62,000 the previous year) and had significant combined turnover growth.

According to the article, these 800 companies represent only a fraction of the Chinese companies doing business in Britain.

The UK-China Tech Forum is a platform to allow businesses to engage with key stakeholders in government and business in areas of UK-China trade, policy and market growth in both countries.

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