Will US Allow Lenovo to Buy Parts of IBM & Google?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/07/2014 11:44:00 AM
Does it come with PRC minders listening in as a standard feature, NSA style?
Call it Reds Under the Beds, Cyber Edition. The supposed land of free trade has customarily thrown significant roadblocks in the way of Chinese firms signaling their intent to purchase US tech-related firms on "national security" grounds. The reasoning usually goes like this: Chinese firms trace part of their ownership to the PRC itself, hence there is a threat that their political overlords will ask them to incorporate spying apparatus in the electronics they sell Stateside. It's a lot of "could bes" and "what ifs" when, in reality, we know that the Yankees are no slouches on surreptitiously gathering information on everyone else. There are no hypotheticals there since US spying happens all the time on friend and foe alike.

At any rate, Lenovo--which famously purchased IBM's personal computer business sometime ago--is now looking to buy Big Blue's server business. What's more, it is also looking to purchase Google's Motorola (remember them?) cell phone unit. IBM is looking to concentrate on services. By divesting the server business it will have a negligible interest in selling the "International Business Machines" it stands for. Meanwhile, Google has not exactly revived the moribund Motorola name to compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung. So, on the shopping block both go.

Following earlier,  harrowing experiences of fellow Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE dealing with the multi-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) that looks into foreign investment with "national security" implications, Lenovo is hiring high-priced talent to avoid such entrapment for both prospective deals.
Lenovo Group Ltd. has turned to national security insiders to win U.S. approval to buy Google Inc.’s Motorola Mobility phone unit and International Business Machines Corp.’s low-end server business, people familiar with the two deals said. 

The world’s largest personal-computer maker hired attorneys at Steptoe & Johnson LLP who held positions at the Central Intelligence Agency and the Homeland Security Department to guide its Motorola review through a key interagency panel, one of the people said. Covington & Burling LLP partners David Fagan and Mark Plotkin are representing Lenovo in the IBM server deal, according to another person familiar with the matter...

Steptoe will guide the Motorola review through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or CFIUS, one of the people said. Partners Stewart Baker, a former senior official at Homeland Security, and Stephen Heifetz, who served in the Justice Department, Homeland Security and the CIA, are advising China’s Lenovo on its purchase of Motorola Mobility.

Covington’s Plotkin represented IBM in the $1.25 billion sale of its personal-computer division to Lenovo. He leads the firm’s national security and defense industry group, according to his biography on the law firm’s website.
In other words, Lenovo has added to the payroll those who would likely have been on the CFIUS at an earlier time to see its acquisitions push through. Lenovo has the advantage of having gone through the CFIUS process before. What's more, the businesses it intends to buy are supposedly not "mission critical" in undergirding the US telecoms infrastructure:
Lenovo’s purchase of IBM’s PC business has already been vetted by U.S. officials, and the company was cooperative and open during that investigation, Lewis said. In addition, they’re buying low-end, consumer-oriented businesses.

“If you had to pick a Chinese company that wasn’t going to run into trouble, it would be them,” Lewis said. “This is a pretty vanilla deal, as opposed to the backbone telecom products, which have always been considered a strategic industry. No one considers servers or handsets strategic.” 
I do hope so, but I somehow think that US lawmakers will make a big stink of both either way to score political points. Remember, too, that Lenovo tried to purchase Canada's BlackBerry late last year--a seemingly innocuous purchase along the same lines as Motorola--but was thwarted by the Canadian government:
Beijing-based computer manufacturer Lenovo Group Ltd. actively considered a bid for BlackBerry Ltd., but the Canadian government told the smartphone company it would not accept a Chinese takeover because of national security concerns, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Ottawa made it clear in high-level discussions with BlackBerry that it would not approve a Chinese company buying a company deeply tied into Canada’s telecom infrastructure, sources said. The government made its position known over the last one to two months. Because Ottawa made it clear such a transaction would not fly, it never formally received a proposal from BlackBerry that envisioned Lenovo acquiring a stake, sources said.
No matter how hypocritical or far-fetched, racist-protectionism persists among North Americans.