One of Silicon Valley’s most prominent investment firms will face government scrutiny over its investments in China. Sequoia Capital has received a polite but pointed request from Congress to enter into more detail on how it will prevent further U.S. investment dollars from advancing Chinese interests.
Sequoia announced in June that it would be splitting into three pieces: Sequoia Capital in the U.S. and Europe, Peak XV Partners in India and Southeast Asia, and HongShan in China (formerly Sequoia Capital China). While the company claimed to be doing so due to it being “increasingly complex to run a decentralized global investment business,” it seemed clear to all that it was in anticipation of a legal requirement to divest from certain lines of business in the rival superpower.
The Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, led by Mike Gallagher (R-WI), would like further assurance that Sequoia is in fact splitting up, and whether that is sufficient to prevent — as is now required following a recent Executive Order — U.S. dollars from ending up funding Chinese efforts in quantum computing, semiconductors, AI, and other important tech sectors.
The letter, which can be read here, sent to Sequoia calls the split “a step in the right direction,” but adds:
Although Sequoia’s split appears to resolve some of the concerns detailed above by curtailing the flow in some cases of U.S. managerial and technological expertise to problematic PRC companies, significant questions remain…
Those questions are, first, whether the split could potentially and paradoxically intensify investment in the proscribed industries by allowing HongShan to act without the screening and oversight of its U.S. counterpart. And second, whether HongShan might intensify its investments in U.S. startups for similar reasons.
The letter from the committee asks Sequoia to list all companies it has invested in that are based or have significant operations in China, along with numerous details like ownership, Chinese government interest, decision-making processes and so on.
It also asks for more information on the reported 50 percent of Sequoia Capital China limited partners who are based in the U.S. and how they have invested.
Lastly, it asks how Sequoia would respond if the U.S. put one of Sequoia’s portfolio companies on a sanctions or trade restriction list.
It’s possible that some of the information asked for may be confidential, in flux, or simply unknown (particularly the last question, which concerns a hypothetical). Nevertheless, the committee directs Sequoia to respond by November 1.
Sequoia Capital China had already significantly scaled back its capital deployment in the country before it split from its U.S. mothership. The firm raised a whopping $9 billion in July 2022 for its China funds covering all stages but recorded just 62 deals between Q3 2022 and Q2 2023, compared to 177 deals between Q3 2021 and Q2 2022, according to data from Crunchbase.
Geopolitics might have played a role in the firm’s slowing dealmaking in China, but the dramatic drop is not that surprising after all given that venture investments in China overall have been sluggish following three years of tech crackdowns. Some of the leading U.S. venture capital firms focused on China have paradoxically shifted their attention to overseas markets, particularly the U.S., where they find a happy marriage with Chinese founders targeting American users.
The U.S. government’s letter, however, does raise questions over the viability of Sequoia’s — and other similar global VC firms’ — decoupling strategy.
GGV Capital, which also has had a prolific two decades of backing China’s internet upstarts, recently split into two arms, a U.S. arm and an Asian one that includes its China operation. The announcement of its reorganization came three months after a U.S. congressional committee initiated a probe into four American investment funds — GGV Capital, GSR Ventures, Walden International and Qualcomm Ventures — over their funding for Chinese tech companies in sensitive areas.
It remains to be seen how these venture capitalists stuck between the two superpowers’ tech arms race continue to find resolutions.