Flush with cash and few places to spend it at home, Chinese conglomerates have crossed the globe, claiming the mainland’s position as a developing superpower through calculated buyouts and acquisitions. A comprehensive Bloomberg April 2018 audit showed that China spent at least $318 billion over the past 10 years in Europe leading to calls for new laws and screening procedures involved in foreign investments involving critical infrastructure like airports and energy production. But now, Chinese civilians themselves are going shopping across Europe.
According to Canada-based global real estate consultant Colliers International, Chinese investors spent a total of US$39.5 billion on overseas real estate in 2018 alone – an increase of eight percent compared to 2017.
Drawn to Greece with a combination of rock bottom luxury Greek real estate where a US$285,000 investment gets you both a three-bedroom apartment in Athens with a view of the famed Acropolis and a renewable resident’s permit, Chinese buyers from the mainland have been snapping up real estate deals in Europe since 2009’s Greek debt crisis. According to Reuters, since October 2018, hundreds of Chinese investors arrive at Athens airport three times a week, greeted by Greek real estate agents who then take them property hunting.
All this was fine and dandy, until the Chinese starting getting into businesses they had no prior history or experience in managing. Case in point: Vineyards in Bordeaux, France. According to NYT, Chinese investors have found new ways to incur the ire of the French. They’re buying up French vineyards and with clueless re-naming, brand names like “Imperial Rabbit” are riling up Bordeaux wine producers – there are no rabbits nor “Grand Antelopes” in Bordeaux.
In a French institution with a rich, vital history such as winemaking, the industry is facing encroaching winds of globalisation at a breakneck pace. Partly driven by high French inheritance or wealth taxes, the descendants of the pioneering vintners can’t afford the insane estate duties of these multi-hectares of valuable land. Jean Pierre Amoreau, a celebrated maker of Bordeaux at Château Le Puy tells NYT that “Chinese have a lot of liquidity, so they are helping these owners have a decent retirement,” and that in a sense, they are helping to preserve the heritage and future of these chateaus.
This phenomenon is not new or unique to French vineyards either. An end 2018 ABC report showed that Chinese nationals are buying Australian vineyards and wineries at unprecedented levels, with up to 10 per cent of South Australia’s iconic Barossa Valley now in Chinese hands.
A lot of this has been driven by Chinese thirst for wine. According to a Vinexpo report Chinese wine consumption is expected to rise by over one third to $23 billion over the next five years when it will reach volume of 192 million cases, and this Chinese demand for wine is driving these new vineyard owners to market Bordeaux wines specifically to Chinese perceptions and culture with labels like “Imperial Rabbit” and “Grand Antelopes”.
The truth is Chinese nationals only own 3% or 180 of the roughly 6,000 chateaus in Bordeaux and only the the middling and lesser-ranked ones, and none of the celebrated producers like Chateau Monestier La Tour. And despite the hackneyed brands designed to cater to Chinese tastes, the serious task of wine production is still very much French with the new owners leaving day-to-the-operations to the artisans who know best.
That said, a darker cloud looms over superficial concerns of badly named wines, in June 2018 Agence France-Presse reported that French financial police seized 10 Bordeaux wineries owned by Chinese conglomerate Haichang over suspicions of tax fraud and allegations of money laundering.