So it is particularly galling that Jack Ma of Alibaba fame is getting the full-on "national security" treatment. Not only did he meet Trump at Trump Tower before Trump assumed office, but he also vowed to help create American jobs. However, he is now being thwarted in his efforts to expand his money transfer service operations to North America through buying MoneyGram International.
As far as I am concerned, money transfer is an innocuous service in this day and age. There is no particular technology crucial to American security involved in sending money overseas. Nor is there a "terrorist" threat in China the Yanks are especially concerned with. Nevertheless, two American congresspersons have somehow found sinister motivations in the proposed purchase of MoneyGram:
On Friday, two members of the House of Representatives urged the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to conduct a "full and thorough" investigation of Ant Financial’s proposed acquisition of MoneyGram International Inc., a money-transfer service.I suppose that if American lawmakers see "national security" concerns in hog farms, then they can certainly see sinister machinations at hand when a Chinese firm proposes purchasing a money transfer franchise. The other would-be purchaser of MoneyGram, Euronet, has been making claims that know-your-customer (KYC) regulations would allow the Chinese access to sensitive information:
"The proposal merits careful evaluation as it would provide Chinese access to the U.S. financial infrastructure, a move that would pose significant national security risks if completed," Congressman Kevin Yoder and Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Formerly a financial-services affiliate of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and controlled by Ma, Ant made its bid in January for $880 million, or $13.25 a share. In March, Leawood, Kansas-based rival Euronet Worldwide Inc. came in at $15.20, saying its offer had a better chance at regulatory approval. Dallas-based MoneyGram entered a confidentiality agreement with Euronet in late March to further consider its unsolicited proposal.
Euronet CEO Michael Brown wrote to Mnuchin this week arguing Ant’s offer raises national security concerns because money transmitters collect confidential data on users which the government requires them to retain for several years. Money transmitters also get confidential requests from the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network about transactions that may be connected to terrorism or money laundering.Those who make money transfers via MoneyGram are not likely to be movers and shakers of international capitalism but rather migrant workers. These are small amounts we're dealing with, and I hardly think Chinese authorities would be keen on their personal information.
Yoder and Johnson reiterated those concerns in their letter on Friday, pointing out that Ant Financial is partly owned by Chinese state institutions. This could give a foreign government access to critical infrastructure and could be used for "intelligence purposes, location tracking, and identifying vulnerabilities for coercion," they said.
The total Chinese state-owned or state-affiliated ownership of Ant Financial is just below 15 percent, according to a person familiar with the matter. Those investors are passive and the entities don’t participate in Ant’s management or board, the person said. They asked not to be identified talking about Ant’s ownership structure.
In this respect at least Trump is right: If Jack Ma wants to invest and create jobs in the US honestly, what's the matter? While Ma is certainly friendly with the Communist Party, sharing information on those making small money transfers Stateside is hardly one of his priorities. He just wants to make money; fancy that. No more, no less.