About The China Footprint

At a time when tariffs and trade wars dominate the headlines, The China Footprint seeks to highlight a different dimension of the US-China economic relationship: the rapid expansion of Chinese consumption and investment on US soil.

The activities captured by The China Footprint represent a new arena for face-to-face economic engagement between the two countries. While some categories included in The China Footprint—namely, education and tourism spending—are included in US “exports” to China, these activities differ meaningfully from the exchange of foreign reserves for physical imports or impersonal services.

What unites these diverse categories—FDI, education, home purchases, tourism and EB-5 investment—is that they bring the US-China relationship deep into the lives of American citizens, creating new opportunities and frictions at the local level.

We draw on the most authoritative data sources to sketch a composite picture of Chinese consumption and direct investment in the United States. The intent of the product is not to present a fully comprehensive picture, but rather to use important proxy indicators to illustrate this emerging economic dynamic. Many of the data points presented here are reported publicly, but they are often described as isolated instances in which Chinese spending or investment is affecting a particular city or industry. The China Footprint seeks to reframe this narrative by illustrating the aggregate impact of these financial flows.

The China Footprint has deliberately omitted some comparable categories of financial flows due to the lack of reliable data. Most prominent among these are venture capital (VC) investment and the purchase of American financial and insurance products by Chinese nationals. Chinese VC activity in Silicon Valley grew considerably in recent years (a trend MacroPolo has covered here and here), but data on this type of activity is scarce. While providers such as CB Insights have compiled data on the value of the investment rounds that Chinese VCs have participated in, these VCs’ actual contribution to those rounds is unknown.

Similarly, while Chinese purchases of financial and insurance products have increased, the exact amount is unknown. Due to the liquid nature of these financial products, the majority of these purchases are made through third-party financial hubs, making an accurate accounting difficult.

Despite these omissions, we believe that The China Footprint can both add to and reframe our understanding of the evolving US-China economic relationship. National policy will continue to affect the activities examined here, but the activities are in turn affecting the policy environment by bringing Chinese institutions and citizens directly into American cities and towns. That process is not objectively positive or negative for the US-China relationship, but it will certainly be consequential. The China Footprint aims to capture that process as it unfolds.

Data Sources and Methodology:


Chinese direct investments in the United States largely fall into two categories: mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and green or brownfield investments. We sourced M&A data from Mergermarket, a proprietary data provider, and included only actual M&A deals that were successfully completed by the end of 2017. For the green and brownfield investments, we used our own algorithm from Know the Numbers to include only existing Chinese investments. In other words, we did not include aspirational investments based on press releases or deal announcements that have yet to materialize.


Our baseline data for total education spending is drawn from the National Travel and Tourism Office (NTTO) within the Department of Commerce. Since NTTO data on Education Receipts excludes airfare spending on US airlines, to give a fuller picture of education spending MacroPolo estimated the percentage of total Passenger Fare Receipts attributable to students and added this to the NTTO’s Education Receipts. In addition, because NTTO data on Education Receipts for 2017 is not yet available, we used NTTO projections of total tourism arrivals and average spending per educational arrival to estimate the 2017 Education Receipts. Finally, data on the choice of college majors and location of Chinese students in higher education are drawn from the Open Doors 2017 report by the Institute for International Education.


Data on Chinese tourism spending is also drawn from the NTTO, with total spending calculated by subtracting our estimates of total Education Receipts and education-related Passenger Fare Receipts. Estimates for 2017 tourism spending were made using NTTO projections for tourism arrivals and MacroPolo’s calculations of average spending per arrival, with Education Receipts then subtracted from the total. Data on the purpose of trip, length of stay, and destination are drawn from NTTO surveys of Chinese travelers.

Home purchases:

Data on Chinese home purchases are drawn from the National Association of Realtors:

Copyright ©2017 “2017 Profile of International Activity in US Residential Real Estate.” National Association of Realtors. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. July 2017.


Estimates of total Chinese EB-5 investment from 2010-2016 are sourced from an Associated Press report on the program, which combined data on EB-5 visas from the US State Department with a multiplier for the average number of visas granted per investment. We then used that multiplier and the latest available State Department data to replicate that estimate for 2017.