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NYSE once again delists Chinese telecom titans

Now they are, now they aren't.

In the haven of regulatory stability that is the Trump administration's waning days, the New York Stock Exchange is now again delisting three major Chinese telecom companies.

Trading in China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom Hong Kong will now halt on Monday, January 11, at 4 a.m., New York time.

The NYSE said it had received "new specific guidance" on Tuesday from the Office of Foreign Assets Control of Steven Mnuchin's Treasury Department.

Initially, on December 31, the bourse said it would delist the three stocks between January 7 and January 11, finding the businesses "are no longer suitable for listing."

But on January 4 it changed tack and said the stocks would continue to be listed, "in light of further consultation with relevant regulatory authorities," which appeared to mean the Securities and Exchange Commission.

This announcement, the NYSE's third statement on the point in a week, now reverses the reversal.

And it comes after a telephone call Tuesday from Mnuchin to NYSE President Stacey Cunningham.

The three Chinese telecom companies are indeed covered by a Donald Trump executive order on November 12, which takes effect on January 11, the Office of Foreign Assets Control now says.

This Trump order prohibits transactions in securities "of any Communist Chinese military company" by "any United States person."

Whether or not a business is a "Communist Chinese military company," it turns out, is up to the US Secretary of Defense to determine.

For the moment, this is acting secretary Christopher Miller, who has overseen the Pentagon's list shown here.

The three businesses trade mainly on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, but their stock prices there fell on the back of the news.

China Telecom's shares dropped 9.4%, their biggest fall since 2008.

China Mobile fell 7.2%, and China Unicom Hong Kong 11%.

Playing to the galleries

The delisting won praise with China hawks, like Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse.

Sasse said "our freedom-loving allies should take note and review their own financial ties to the CCP," the Chinese Communist Party.

"Americans shouldn't bankroll firms that are in bed with the Chinese Communist Party, he said, adding Chinese firms "that reject fundamental transparency requirements and have ties to the Chinese military shouldn't benefit from American investment."


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The Nebraska Republican meanwhile also criticized Trump after his supporters ransacked the US Capitol building, which Sasse called the "inevitable and ugly outcome" of Trump's statements rejecting the validity of the November election he lost.

But hardline actions toward China win support from Republicans like the 48-year-old Nebraskan, who has said China "started a big global pandemic" and calls Chinese textiles "blood cotton."

Tying Biden's hands

President-elect Joseph Biden's inauguration day is January 20, so the Trump moves will not necessarily last very long.

But they do mean Biden would need to take a risk on publicly reversing them in his early days.

It may well be, with China hawks like Senator Sasse attentively watching, Biden may choose to spend his political capital elsewhere.

Likely, any policy changes will involve the new administration taking multilateral cover.

The new administration will "welcome early consultations with our European partners on our common concerns about China's economic practices," said Jake Sullivan, the Biden administration's incoming national security advisor, in a tweet.

Market watchers have called the NYSE's series of course changes a "360-degree turn."

Beijing, meanwhile, is taking full advantage of the affair to reflect publicly how "random, arbitrary, and uncertain" US regulation of foreign companies can be, in the words of Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

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— Padraig Belton, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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