The letters, which began landing in dozens of companies’ email inboxes in the spring, reflect the broadly held view among U.S. officials and lawmakers that the United States failed in recent years to adequately screen investments pouring in from China and other countries — particularly low-profile venture-capital investments that didn’t make the headlines. The 2018 Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, or FIRRMA, aimed to address that by boosting CFIUS’s funding and powers.
Tech executives say the inquiries are part of a growing chill in U.S.-China relations that has made Silicon Valley companies more cautious about accepting foreign investments and caused some China-backed venture-capital funds to curb their activity.
The decoupling can be seen in data showing that Chinese venture-capital investment in the United States dropped to a six-year low in the first half of 2020, to $800 million, according to research provider Rhodium Group. VC investment by U.S. firms in China hit its lowest level in four years, at $1.3 billion.
Michael Borrus, the founding general partner of XSeed Capital, said CFIUS scrutiny is causing investors and companies to think twice about deals.
“We’ve had Chinese VCs or Chinese families who have been interested in putting money in” to some companies where XSeed Capital is a shareholder, Borrus said. “In the current environment, we’ve decided it’s too complicated.”
Start-ups decide which investments to accept, but existing shareholders often have a say in the matter, Borrus said. “You have discussions with companies, ‘You need to think about this very seriously, it could open you up to CFIUS investigations … if you have alternatives, you should consider them,’ ” he said. “They usually see the wisdom.”
In addition to boosting CFIUS’s work, the government is also sending national-security officials to visit venture capitalists and other tech leaders in Silicon Valley to