Remember when the biggest worry about doing business with the Chinese was that they might steal your technology?
Well, think again. They don't just want your technology, they want your company.
On Thursday, one of China's largest state-run oil companies made an $18.5 billion takeover bid for Unocal, which already had agreed to be bought by Chevron for $16.4 billion.
Also this week, a Chinese company formed a group of investors that offered to buy Maytag Corp. for $1.3 billion -- more than was offered by U.S. investors.
And remember that last month a Chinese computer maker bought IBM's personal computer business.
It's obvious why China wants Unocal. China has a voracious appetite for petroleum, and in order to fuel its industrial growth, it needs to be an international player, not just a consumer. Owning Unocal, which is based in California, would be a good first step.
But why Maytag? It's a strong brand. The Chinese learned about the appliance business up close and personal because appliance makers were among the first to outsource production to China.
Extracting technology and trade secrets from Western business partners wasn't as sinister in China as it seems in the West. It's just Chinese tradition. Confucius taught that if you want to keep something to yourself, you don't show it in public. If you let others see it, it's the same as sharing.
Aggressively pursuing U.S. companies and businesses is just an outgrowth of that philosophy. That's because the Chinese are learning to play by Western rules.
As Marx, Lenin and Mao taught, capital has no nationality, which is why Wall Street investment bankers are willing, even anxious, to assist the Chinese corporate takeover attempts.
Do you see a trend?
A couple of weeks ago, Toyota strengthened its anti-takeover defenses, according to the Japanese newspaper Asahi. But with a market capitalization of nearly $130 billion, who could possibly worry Toyota? The Chinese, that's who.
At today's prices, the $18.5 billion offer for Unocal would be just about enough to buy all of GM, which has total market capitalization of nearly $20 billion.
This month, Kirk Kerkorian paid $31 a share to boost his stake in GM to 40.5 million shares, or 7.2 percent of the stock.
Ten years ago, Kerkorian launched a hostile takeover bid for Chrysler Corp., so it would be interesting to see what he would do if the Chinese come after GM.
Wouldn't it be a hoot if Kerkorian turned out to be a white knight?
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at