India will block Chinese investment in insurance giant LIC's IPO, say sources

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September 24, 2021: New Delhi is planning for Chinese investors to buy shares in the Indian insurance giant Life Insurance Corp (LIC), which is going public. Four senior government officials and a banker said that Reuters was underscoring tensions between the two nations.

State-owned LIC is considered a strategic asset, commanding over 60% of India’s life insurance market with more than $500 billion assets. While the government plans to allow foreign investors to participate in what is likely to be the country’s biggest-ever IPO worth a potential $12.2 billion, it is suspicious of Chinese ownership, the sources said.

Political tensions between the countries rocketed in the previous year after their soldiers clashed on the disputed Himalayan border. Since then, India has sought to limit Chinese investment in sensitive companies and sectors, banned a raft of Chinese mobile apps, and subject the imports of Chinese goods to extra scrutiny.

“With China after the border clashes, it cannot be business as usual. The trust deficit has significantly widened,” said one of the government officials, adding that Chinese investment in companies like LIC could pose risks.

The sources refused to be identified as discussions on how Chinese investment might be blocked ongoing, and no final decisions have been made.

India’s finance ministry and LIC did not respond to Reuter’s emailed requests for comment.

With the aim to solve budget constraints, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration hopes to raise 900 billion rupees by selling 5% to 10% of LIC this financial year, ending in March. The government has yet to decide on whether it will sell one tranche of shares seeking to raise the total amount or choose to seek the funds in two tranches, sources have said.

Under current law, no overseas investors invest in LIC, but the government considers foreign institutional investors to buy up to 20% of LIC’s offering.

Options to prevent Chinese investment in LIC include amending the current law on foreign direct investment with a clause related to LIC or creating a new rule specific to LIC, two government officials said.

They added that the government was conscious of the difficulty in checking on Chinese investments that comes indirectly and would attempt to craft a policy that would protect India’s security but not deter overseas investors.

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