China shows it takes Imagination opportunity seriously

April 11, 2018 //By Peter Clarke
China shows it takes Imagination opportunity seriously
The appointment of Leo Li as the next CEO of intellectual property licensor Imagination Technologies Ltd. (Kings Langley, England) demonstrates to me that China takes seriously the investment of £550 million in cash (about $740 million), made in the company last year.

It also pushes into sharp relief whether Japan's Softbank Group sees its own $30 billion investment in ARM Ltd. in the same light. There is a sense that Softbank – with its plans to move a portion of ARM into the Vision Fund (see Saudi Arabia technology fund hungry for ARM) and talk of re-listing ARM – sees it as not only an investment opportunity but also as a cash cow to be milked and moved around for maximum financial leverage. There is a risk that conflicts or confusion could occur from holding both positions at the same time.

The much smaller, and much more marginally profitable, Imagination is privately owned by US based private equity firm Canyon Bridge Capital Partners LLC (Palo, Alto, Calif.). But with the money coming to that firm from Chinese sources, essentially the Chinese state, it is not surprising that Leo Li, co-president at Tsinghua Unigroup, has been drafted in to manage that investment (see Imagination replaces CEO with Chinese chip veteran).

Tsinghua Unigroup is essentially an instrument of Chinese state policy in the semiconductor industry. It is the owner of both Spreadtrum Communications and RDA Microelectronics, two of the most successful Chinese fabless chip companies started in recent years, and Leo Li was key to that success.

During the wave of semiconductor business consolidation 2016 and 2017 there was much discussion that China might be trying a different approach to gaining global significance in the industry. That of buying its way into the business. Numerous tilts were made at US-owned companies and almost all were rebuffed, often by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Next: US saw off Chinese predation

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