Chinese Investments in the Empire State: Foreign Invasion, or Good for the Nation?

The Freedom Tower under construction at 1 World Trade Center, where Chinese investors have signed major leases. (Dan Nguyen/Flickr)

Massive real estate investments from Chinese companies might stir anxiety in some, but the income is helping.

Investors from rising power China have made massive investments in New York real estate, to the tune of more than $1 billion, the New York Times reports today. And not just any real estate, either: investors have signed major leases at the Empire State Building and 1 World Trade Center, the centerpiece of Ground Zero reconstruction.

Despite the gargantuan and ongoing nature of Chinese investments, the general public remains largely ignorant of them:

The Chinese investments are occurring with little fanfare, in part because Chinese executives tend to shun publicity. But back home, their government is urging them to invest overseas to diversify China’s foreign-exchange holdings, develop business partnerships and improve the country’s leverage in international affairs.

When a similar wave of Japanese foreign investments came in the mid- to late '80s, the news "stirred anxiety and even xenophobia," especially the "purchase of a controlling stake in Rockefeller Center by the Mitsubishi Estate Company of Tokyo in 1989."

Should we see China's investments as "evidence that the city and the country were losing their dominant position," the way New Yorkers regarded Japanese investments in the '80s? Despite any anxiety some may feel towards the growing investments, the money may be helping in both the short and long term.

The Times goes on to cite "An American Open Door?", a report jointly issued by the Asia Society and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars this spring that warns "that on a national level, protectionist impulses and anti-China sentiment, particularly in Washington, could scare away investors."

City officials welcome the investments, calling them a "boon to the local economy," a statement with which Pamela Liebman, president of the Corcoran Group, would probably agree.

“We went from zero to 200 miles per hour in six months,” she told the Times. "This year, it's the biggest buzz word in real estate: 'Chinese.'"

More information on Asia Society's "An American Open Door?"
Read the full New York Times story