By staff reporters Wang Shanshan, Qin Xudong, Liang Dongmei, Dong Lingxi and Zhao Hejuan, and Washington correspondent Li Zengxin
president of Huiyuan Juice Group, Zhu Xinli, bet a friend that
Zhu won the wager the next day, March 18, when the ministry turned thumbs down on the proposed takeover, two days before the scheduled end of a six-month antitrust review.
Zhu wishes he’d lost the bet. Now his company is struggling and his investment plans are in disarray.
And while Zhu licks his wounds, other Chinese companies seeking overseas acquisitions fear a backlash. They worry that antitrust regulators in other countries may view Coca-Cola’s failure as an example of Chinese government protectionism, and decide to follow suit.
Zhu’s juice company – the largest in China -- and the American beverage giant had planned their marriage for months. Anticipating a happily-ever-after, Huiyuan had shifted its focus and finances into upstream juice business channels. The company even replaced some of its managers with Coca-Cola executives.
But the ministry’s Anti-monopoly Department rejected the proposal on grounds it would negatively impact market competition.
Moreover, the government defended the decision. Responding to criticism in foreign media such as The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times, which cited possible trade protectionism by the Chinese government, Commerce Minister Chen Deming said the nation’s policy toward foreign investment has been proactive.
Chen also said it would be “a huge mistake” to think China would restrict the inflow of foreign capital.
A ministry spokesperson, using the official Web site to answer media queries, said the Huiyuan decision was based on the strength of China’s new anti-monopoly law, and denied policymakers had been motivated by politics, protectionism or public opinion.