Washington’s battle with Beijing is escalating once more on Wall Street.
The New York Stock Exchange will end trading in the shares of three of China’s largest state-owned telecom companies this month. It says the move is needed to comply with an order President Donald Trump signed late last year that bans Americans from investing in firms that the US government suspects are either owned or controlled by the Chinese military.
China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom will all be suspended from the NYSE by January 11, when the order goes into effect.
China’s Ministry of Commerce, meanwhile, said in a statement on Saturday that Beijing would take “necessary measures” to safeguard the interests of Chinese companies, adding that it opposes the inclusion of such firms on what it called Washington’s list of “Communist Chinese military companies.”
All three of the telecom companies have traded in New York for many years. China Mobile, the country’s largest telecom company, has been listed on the New York Stock Exchange since 1997. Rivals China Telecom and China Unicom, meanwhile, have been trading there since the early 2000s.
The firms said Monday that they have not yet heard from the NYSE about when they will be delisted, but added that they are considering steps to protect their rights. And while they said their trading volumes are relatively low in New York, they admitted that the decision could affect shares that are traded elsewhere.
That already appears to be happening in Hong Kong, where shares in each company briefly slipped between 3% and 5% on Monday. They eventually pared losses somewhat, though China Mobile and China Telecom still ended the day in the red. China Unicom closed up slightly.
While those companies list shares in New York, their business is largely in China. The China Securities Regulatory Commission — the country’s top securities regulator — said Sunday that the direct impact of a delisting would be “rather limited on the companies’ growth and general market performance.”
“We firmly support the three companies to safeguard their legitimate rights according to law, and believe they are able to properly handle any negative impact caused by the executive order and potential delisting,” the regulator said in a statement.
The Pentagon has so far identified 35 companies it says have ties to the Chinese military, including chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) and tech firm Huawei. SMIC trades in both Hong Kong and Shanghai, while Huawei is a private company.
SMIC has denied that it has a relationship with the Chinese military. Huawei has also at various times denied US allegations that it poses a national security risk, and China’s own Ministry of Defense said last year that the tech firm does not have a “so-called military background.”
Trump’s order bans US investors from owning or trading any securities that originate from or are exposed to those firms. Investors will have until November 2021 to divest from the companies.
Citi analysts said Monday that shares of the telecom companies that NYSE has promised to delist will likely continue to face pressure in Hong Kong as investors liquidate their holdings to comply with the order.
The Trump administration has been ratcheting up its pressure on Chinese firms in the weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Last month, Washington slapped harsh restrictions on SMIC and other companies that effectively cut them off from US suppliers and technology. Trump also recently signed into law new rules that could force Chinese companies to delist from American stock exchanges if they failed to meet US auditing standards.