- - Monday, May 1, 2017

China is an important part of the American economy. We’re happy to have them buy up our debt, but integrating Chinese companies into the domestic marketplace is another matter. The Chinese economy is in no way transparent as most Western economies are. Without evidence to the contrary, evidence usually difficult to obtain, it’s reasonable to presume that any “private” Chinese company is linked to the Chinese government.

ANT Financial is a Chinese company that was known as Alipay until it was spun off from a company called Alibaba, an online electronic payments firm popular with small businesses in China. ANT Financial is trying now to take over MoneyGram, a similar U.S. payments firm with brick and mortar facilities at U.S. military installations here and abroad. MoneyGram is popular with American GIs who use it to send money home.

Such takeovers demand scrutiny. The Chinese government has been caught in the past engaging in backdoor hacks of U.S. government computer systems, including those at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. It’s not exactly clear what they were looking for, but enabling ANT Financial to take over MoneyGram could enable it to search through the personal information and financial records of millions of Americans, as well as U.S. military and law enforcement agencies.

China has a history of misusing such information and lack of consumer protections makes enabling this takeover a risk for U.S. consumers, who have no say in how information about them is used. Even more troubling, enabling the deal could make it more difficult to shut down terror cells here and throughout the world. Companies transmitting money have played a key role with U.S. law enforcement agencies monitoring terrorism financing, money laundering and other crimes. Allowing one of the largest American firms in the field to come under the control of the Chinese government — even at arms’ length — could jeopardize the necessary constant monitoring of those who wish America ill.

President Trump is counting on China and President Xi Jinping to help with preventing North Korea from doing something exceptionally provocative and dangerous, and the administration may be tempted to turn a sympathetic eye to the acquisition by ANT Financial.

President Xi may be a congenial golfing partner for the president at Mar-A-Lago, but China has a history of blocking U.S. investment in China while simultaneously stealing U.S. intellectual property and technology, all to harm domestic economic and national security. U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin chairs the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, and in 2009 the committee intervened to prevent China from buying an American gold mine because it was too close to a U.S. military base. The prospective ANT Financial takeover of MoneyGram poses similar concerns.

Secretary Mnuchin should convene the committee to examine fully the consumer privacy, national security and law enforcement issues the acquisition raises, and then decide whether the takeover should move forward. If the deal goes sour, and deals often do (and President Trump knows all about deal-making), there will be no putting the Chinese genie back in the bottle.

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