China Is Sold on America

First, it was the Japanese. Moneymen from Tokyo blew into the United States to buy famous pieces of the American landscape, from Rockefeller Center in New York to the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.

Now, about a quarter-century later, another set of deep-pocketed foreign buyers is pushing ever deeper into United States real estate: the Chinese.

Undaunted by Japan’s real estate misadventures in the 1980s — some Japanese investors wildly overpaid for United States property, and Japan eventually suffered one of the biggest property market collapses in history — Chinese investors are fanning out in the United States.

What began with a few isolated purchases two years ago has become a hunt for trophy properties and billion-dollar deals. So far, the kind of fears that arose in the 1980s — unfounded talk that Japan was “buying up” America — have not surfaced this time. To the contrary, the Chinese, or at least their money, are being welcomed, even celebrated.

Some caution that China could quickly retreat, as Japan did, if its economy worsens. Signs of economic weakness in China have been mounting, and the country’s financial system has recently come under stress. Those concerns could dissipate if Beijing steps in to ease strains in the nation’s banking industry and to spur growth, but many economists see real and growing dangers within China’s economy.

And yet in recent weeks, several big deals in New York City have set real estate circles abuzz. Zhang Xin, a Chinese business magnate and chief executive of the largest commercial real estate developer in Beijing, joined forces with the Safra family of Brazil to buy a large piece of the General Motors Building in Midtown. Dalian Wanda Group, a big Chinese developer, said it intended to build a luxury hotel in Manhattan. (Wanda is also planning to build a hotel in London.)

The deals go beyond shimmering glass-and-steel towers: Chinese and Hong Kong investors have also become the second-largest foreign buyers of United States homes, after the Canadians.
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