US President Donald Trump's executive order that bars Americans from investing in so-called "companies with ties to the Chinese military" went into effect gradually yesterday (January 11), and the three biggest Chinese telecommunications companies were delisted by the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). In Hong Kong, some warrants and other derivative products issued by US securities firms were also taken down from shelves prematurely. As Trump seeks revenge for his failure to win re-election, Washington hawks hostile to China think that pushing forth US-China decoupling will be an "effective way" to bash China. They have no hesitation at even employing "scorched-earth" tactics that harm both others and themselves. Those most immediately hit by the White House's investment ban are not Chinese companies but US investors who hold their stocks. The NYSE's flip-flopping regarding the delisting shows that Wall Street is reluctant to follow that if it can choose not to. With Trump's term still having a week or so to go, one cannot rule out the possibility that hawks in the US's right wing may have even more desperate manoeuvres against China. Although president-elect Joe Biden is relatively pragmatic, he still has to face the confines of anti-Chinese public opinion. It will be wishful thinking to believe that the new administration will undo all the reckless moves done during the Trump era.
Trump has tried to put the blame for his poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic on China. But in the end, he still failed to reverse the failure of his re-election bid. His hostility towards China has kept rising. In the waning days of Trump's presidency, right-wing hawks are also trying to make the best use of his remaining time and power to roll out more rash and risky measures to batter China, so as to create a fait accompli for successor Biden to inherit. US State Secretary Mike Pompeo's recent announcement of the lifting of all restrictions on contacts between US officials and their Taiwanese counterparts is exactly an example of such effort. Trump's issuance of the executive order prohibiting investment in so-called "companies with ties to the Chinese military" after the presidential election is another example.
The investment ban is highly arbitrary. The definition of "ties to the Chinese military" is basically just up to the US government. Over the past fortnight, the NYSE has reversed its stance repeatedly regarding the delisting of the Chinese telecom trio. One major reason for that is the ambiguity over the executive order and the existence of grey areas. At one time, the NYSE believed that China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom can be free from the ban and retracted its decision of delisting the trio early last week. According to US media, the White House was very unsatisfied with this and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin phoned the senior management of the NYSE, emphasising that the three Chinese telecom companies are included in the ban. The NYSE had no choice but to pull yet another U-turn to go ahead with the decision of delisting.
A senior officer of a US investment management company said China Mobile is one of the strongest telecommunications companies in the world and he felt helpless about the ban. Shares including those of China Mobile and China Unicom have been on a roller-coaster ride over the past few days. Many US investors were forced to sell all the shares they held at low price before the ban took effect. Some corporate investors criticised that the largest victims of the hasty enforcement of the ban are US shareholders. No matter how it was glorified on the outside, the bashing of Chinese companies by Washington is in effect an act of smashing its own reputation as the "defender of free economy".