President Abraham Lincoln was famous for inventing the "pocket veto." When presented with a piece of legislation by a hostile legislative body, instead of formally vetoing it, the clever, devious man literally stuck the document in his pocket. The lack of a formal decision meant the bill could not be passed; the lack of a formal veto meant that veto could not be overturned anyway. Recently President Bush refined the pocket veto through the use of "signing statements," in which he stated his intention to ignore the law even though it had passed.
Neither, however, were as clever as the bureaucrats in the constellation of ministries charged with supervising China’s outbound investment. Instead of putting applications in their pockets, or putting qualifying statements on the record, they simply deny having receiving documents in the first place.
The most recent instance of this, of course, is the Hummer deal. Sichuan Tengzhong, the much ridiculed suitor to GM’s troubled monster truck brand, is an under-qualified, under-funded company with dubious prospects of success in turning Hummer around. But the company is privately held, and therefore those who subscribed to the rhetoric from Beijing encouraging Chinese firms to go abroad to pick up bargains believed that it should be allowed to do so – on its own dime. A professor of Economics at Harbin University told me that Chinese economic policy does not discriminate against privately held firms engaging in outbound investment: "If they want to invest, they can go ahead," she said.