China’s mouthpiece Global Times has labeled Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros a “global economic terrorist” in a tit for tat exchange playing out in dueling op-eds that underscore the rising temperature in US-China relations.
The article, published on September 4 and without citing any evidence, accused the hedge fund manager and philanthropist of providing finance to Hong Kong’s jailed newspaper owner Jimmy Lai to support the city’s anti-Beijing protests in 2019.
Soon thereafter, Soros penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that said New York-based BlackRock’s recent 6.7 billion yuan (US$1 billion) mutual fund investment in China was a “tragic mistake” and would likely lose money for the asset manager’s clients. Soros wrote the BlackRock investment “imperils the national security interests of the US.”
That followed an August 30 op-ed Soros published in the Financial Times that said Chinese President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on private enterprise has been “a significant drag on the Chinese economy” and “could lead to a crash.”
He said indices, including MSCI’s ACWI, ESG Leaders Index and BlackRock’s ESG Aware, have “effectively forced hundreds of billions of dollars belonging to US investors into Chinese companies whose corporate governance does not meet the required standard — power and accountability is now exercised by one man (Xi) who is not accountable to any international authority.”
The billionaire urged the US Congress to pass legislation limiting asset managers’ investments to “companies where actual governance structures are both transparent and aligned with stakeholders.” Previous reports said that Soros’ hedge fund had disposed all of its exposure to Chinese assets earlier this year.
Soros, 91, who reportedly has a net worth of $86 billion and bankrolls the philanthropic Open Society Foundations that provides financial support to non-governmental organizations worldwide, has a long-time love-hate relationship with China.
During the Asian financial crisis in 1997-98, he tried to break the Hong Kong dollar’s peg to the US dollar but was ultimately defeated by the Hong Kong government, which intervened heavily in markets to protect the peg. Soros was given the nickname “financial crocodile” by local media at the time.
In September 2001, Soros was invited to visit China and met then Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji in Beijing. But after the 2008 global financial crisis, Soros told media in October 2009 that China should step up to the plate as the leader of a new global economic order.
He was interviewed by several Chinese media in 2009 and 2010, sharing his experiences as a global investor.
In January 2016, Soros told a dinner audience on the margins of the World Economic Forum in Davos that “a hard landing is practically unavoidable” for the Chinese economy.
A few days later, the People’s Daily, China’s Communist Party mouthpiece, warned that “Soros’s war on the renminbi and the Hong Kong dollar cannot possibly succeed – about this there can be no doubt.”
In August 2017, a petition demanding Soros be declared a “domestic terrorist” obtained over 100,000 signatures on the White House website on allegations he funded liberal protests in the US. In November 2018, Soros was accused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of supporting and financing “terrorists” in the 2013 Gezi Park protests.
In January 2019, Soros said Chinese President Xi Jinping was “the most dangerous enemy” of free societies for presiding over a high-tech surveillance regime. He said, “China is not the only authoritarian regime in the world but it is the wealthiest, strongest and technologically most advanced.”
He said China’s ZTE and Huawei telecom giants should not be allowed to dominate the world’s 5G infrastructure rollout.
The Global Times’ commentary, titled “This global economic terrorist is staring at China!”, claimed Soros only started to criticize China because he felt regret after disposing all his investments in Tencent Music, Baidu and Vishop earlier this year.
It added that his Open Society Foundations financed Human Rights Watch, which it claimed spreads “rumors” against China over recent matters in Hong Kong and Xinjiang as well as the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Without providing any evidence, the Global Times commentary claimed Soros had colluded with Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai to try to start a “color revolution” in Hong Kong in 2019. It also described Soros as “the most evil person in the world” and “the son of Satan.”
The article has been widely republished by mainland websites and cited by Hong Kong and Taiwanese media over the past few days.
But while the Global Times gave voice to long-time conspiracy theories swirling around Soros, including his alleged hidden hand in sparking “color revolutions” in Africa, East Europe and Southeast Asia, it was more likely his criticism of BlackRock’s massive new investment in China and Xi’s regulatory clampdown that hit a nerve.
In April 2021, BlackRock Chairman Larry Fink wrote in a letter to shareholders that “the Chinese market represents a significant opportunity to help meet the long-term goals of investors in China and internationally” and provides the company an opportunity to help address the challenge of retirement for millions of people in China.
“As China’s capital markets continue to open to foreign firms, BlackRock has taken meaningful actions to expand our onshore presence and respond to the needs of our clients,” Fink said.
Last August, China approved a wealth management joint venture between BlackRock, Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings (Pte) Ltd and China Construction Bank Corp. In May this year, the joint venture, which is 50.1% owned by Blackrock, 40% by CCB and 9.9% by Temasek, was granted a license by Chinese regulators.