The Chinese industrialist poised to take control of Italian tyremaker Pirelli has lashed out at the US, saying he is missing out on investment opportunities in the country because his visa applications are routinely rejected.
Ren Jianxin, the chairman of state-owned ChemChina dubbed China’s “merger king”, has orchestrated half-a-dozen acquisitions in countries including France, Norway, Israel and Australia, but has yet to do a major deal in the US in part because of his inability to reliably obtain visas.
“I was scheduled to attend a series of important business meetings in the US in January, February and March, but without a valid US visa I could not make them,” Mr Ren said. “Inevitably this has left a bad impression on our potential [US] business partners who may think I am not serious about opportunities there.”
Last year China and the US announced that they would issue 10-year visas to promote commerce and tourism between the two countries, but Mr Ren has yet to benefit from the programme. “I think it’s just a misunderstanding,” he said. “But without a US visa I have no other option but to travel to Europe and other parts of the world.”
Last week Mr Ren reached an agreement under which the chemical group will become Pirelli’s controlling shareholder and then launch a €7.3bn bid to acquire the company outright.
Mr Ren said on Sunday that he hoped eventually to relist Pirelli in Italy while hiving off its industrial business for a parallel flotation in China or Hong Kong.
Mr Ren was previously head of Bluestar, an industrial cleaning company. Bluestar became part of ChemChina when the latter company was formed 10 years ago through the merger of more than 100 state-owned groups.
ChemChina is the country’s largest chemicals group with annual revenues of about Rmb300bn ($48.3bn) and 140,000 employees. It is one of 120 industrial champions directly administered by the central government in Beijing.
According to Mr Ren, he had no problems travelling to the US before ChemChina’s establishment, when he was awarded multiple-entry visas. But after ChemChina was founded, he travelled to the US with an industrial delegation whose members included a Chinese executive blacklisted by Washington.
“Ever since then, I was repeatedly denied a US visa even though I have been a frequent guest of US government agencies as well as the US embassy [at events] in China,” Mr Ren said. “It seems a pattern has formed and I am admitted to the US only every other year. One year the US government grants me a visa and the following year they decline my application.”
The US embassy in Beijing said that Chinese non-immigrant visa applications totalled 1.84m last year — more than from any other country — and more than 90 per cent of these were approved.
According to the Rhodium Group, annual Chinese direct investment in the US exceeded $10bn in 2013 and 2014.
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