20200919 经济学人 Will TikTok survive? 精读

Corporate contortions

contortion:the action of twisting or bending violently and unnaturally into a different shape or form, or the shape or form into which something is twisted or bent

Will TikTok survive?
TikTok 会幸免于难吗?

The contortions at TikTok and Arm are an unfortunate sign of things to come
TikTok 和 Arm 的扭曲是不幸之事来临的预兆


N AUGUST 6TH, when the White House told TikTok that it had 45 days to shut down or find an American buyer, there was a risk that the Chinese-owned video app would disappear from America, infuriating its 100m users there and destroying billions of dollars of investors’ wealth. Now a last-minute fudge seems to have been found. TikTok has said it will enter a complex partnership with Oracle, an American tech giant, that is designed to show it is more under American sway. The day before Nvidia, an American semiconductor company, bid $40bn for Arm Holdings, a British-based chip-design firm, triggering a storm in Britain about how to stop its tech champion from being dragged into America’s trade war. Far from being oddities, the two episodes offer a preview of how the new age of nationalism will change the way multinational firms are run—for the worse.
8月6日,当白宫告诉TikTok,它有45天的时间关闭或找到一个美国买家时,中国这家视频应用程序有可能从美国消失,激怒美国1亿用户,投资者将会损数十亿美元。最后一刻问题似乎得到了解决,TikTok表示,它将与美国科技巨头甲骨文(Oracle)建立复杂的合作伙伴关系,这种设计表现出它更多被美国支配。就在前一天,美国半导体公司 Nvidia 出价400亿美元收购英国芯片设计公司 Arm Holdings ,在英国引发了一场关于如何阻止其优秀科技企业被拖入美国贸易战的风暴。这两个故事一点也不奇怪,而是提供了一个新的时代,即民族主义新时代将如何改变跨国公司的经营方式的预演。

infuriate:to make furious,激怒
sway: control or influence,控制
Arm Holdings:ARM 控股公司
Far from being oddities:oddities 是 oddity 的复数,oddity 的意思是 someone or something that is strange and unusual。

Both companies straddle geopolitical divides and are at the heart of the digital economy (see article). TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese tech star. The White House says it fears that users’ data are being sent to China, where Big Brother can spy on them, and that the algorithm which selects videos is vulnerable to Chinese manipulation. Arm’s designs are used worldwide, not least in America and China, its two largest markets. Britain’s government worries that a takeover will see key activity shifted abroad (in 2016 Arm was bought by SoftBank, a Japanese firm, which promised to keep the firm’s base in Britain until 2021). A further concern is that, under American ownership, Arm will no longer be a “neutral” supplier, instead becoming an instrument of Uncle Sam’s expanding sanctions regime.
这两家公司都跨越了地缘政治鸿沟,是数字经济的核心(见文章)。TikTok 归中国科技明星字节跳动所有。白宫表示,它担心用户的数据被发送到中国,而”老大哥”可以在那里监视他们,而且选择视频的算法很容易被中国操纵。Arm 的设计被广泛应用于全球,不只是美国和中国这两个最大的市场。英国政府担心收购将主要业务转移到海外(2016年,日本软银(SoftBank)收购了Arm,该公司承诺将公司在英国的基地保留至2021年)。另一个担忧是,美国取得所有权后,Arm将不再是一个”中立”的供应商,而是成为山姆大叔扩大制裁的工具。

geopolitical: adj. 地理政治学的

Throughout history companies have adapted to geopolitics. In the freewheeling era of globalisation that began in the 1980s, the idea took hold around the world that all firms should be treated equally, regardless of their nationality. That made it efficient to operate as a global firm with a unitary management, capital structure and system of production. By contrast the 1930s and 1940s were plagued by wars and protectionism. Businesses such as General Motors responded by allowing their foreign operations to become semi-autonomous. Rather than merge, many firms co-operated across borders through alliances and cartels.

The proposed TikTok deal shows how business is heading in a 1930s direction. Although the details are not yet public, the firm’s ownership will probably change, with American shareholders, including Oracle, and possibly Walmart, holding a large minority stake, perhaps with rights to veto some decisions. The location of key assets will shift, with the headquarters moving to America and Oracle managing the data-storage there (and monitoring the algorithm). Arm, meanwhile, has already contorted its structure once to deal with geopolitics: in 2018 it sold a 51% stake in its China operation to mainly Chinese investors, including state-backed funds. Now it may face a new metamorphosis. The British government, for example, may demand further legal guarantees that it is run autonomously in Britain. That would be part of a push to bolster the country’s industrial base, which has triggered a row with the European Union (see article).
拟议中的 TikTok 交易表明,商业正朝着1930年代的方向发展。尽管细节尚未公开,但该公司的所有权可能会发生变化,包括甲骨文在内的美国股东,可能还有沃尔玛,将持有大量少数股权,并可能拥有否决某些决定的权利。关键资产的位置将发生变化,总部将迁至美国,甲骨文将在美国管理数据存储(并监控算法)。与此同时,Arm已经扭曲了其结构以应对地缘政治:2018年,Arm将其在中国业务的51%股权出售给了主要的中国投资者,包括国家支持的基金。现在它可能面临新的变化。例如,英国政府可能要求进一步的法律保证,要求其在英国自主经营。这将是加强该国工业基础的努力的一部分,该工业基础引发了与欧盟的争执(见文章)。

These corporate contortions have glaring limitations. Politicians get to play God: President Donald Trump seems to favour Oracle—whose chairman, Larry Ellison, is a Trump supporter—rather than a bid by Microsoft, which made slightly more commercial sense. Mr Trump may now demand more concessions, and any deal will also need approval from the newly beefed up investment-screening regimes in America and China. Subdividing businesses into national silos duplicates costs, and complex structures can leave it unclear where control lies. Arm is locked in a bitter dispute with a Chinese executive over who is really in charge of its Chinese joint venture.
这些公司的扭曲有明显的局限性。政客们扮演上帝:唐纳德·特朗普总统似乎更喜欢甲骨文(Oracle的董事长拉里·埃里森(Larry Ellison)是特朗普的支持者),而不是微软的出价,这在商业上更具意义。特朗普现在可能要求中国做出更多让步,任何协议也需要得到美国和中国新加强的投资审查制度的批准。将业务细分到各个国家会造成成本重复,而且复杂的结构可能使控制权不清晰。Arm 与一位中国高管在谁真正负责其中国合资企业方面发生了激烈的争执。

Despite this, expect more multinational manoeuvres as globalisation unwinds. Australia’s government is asking for Rio Tinto, a scandal-prone global mining firm, to be run by an Australian. European tech firms may bifurcate, with one production line serving Chinese clients and another American ones. Chinese companies may have to make do with buying minority stakes abroad, not full control. Firms crippled by sanctions—Huawei, say—may dissolve, with their intellectual property and best people migrating to competitors that do not face such constraints. Geopolitics is twisting global business into a form that is less efficient and less free. That is to be lamented.
尽管如此,随着全球化的发展,预计会有更多的跨国行动。澳大利亚政府要求一家容易引起丑闻的全球矿业公司力拓(Rio Tinto)由澳大利亚人经营。欧洲科技公司可能会这么干:一条生产线服务于中国客户,另一条生产线服务于美国客户。中国公司可能不得不在国外购买少数股权,而不是完全控制。受制裁影响最严重的企业(例如华为)可能会解散,因为他们的知识产权和最佳人才会迁移到不受此类限制的竞争对手。地缘政治正在将全球商业扭曲为效率和自由度较低的形式。这是可悲的。



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