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Between Trump and Jinping Xi - Are Aston Villa actually caught up in a ‘trade war’?

Looking into political links between Xia and China raises more questions than it answers.

U.S. President Trump Visits China Photo by Thomas Peter - Pool/Getty Images

It’s been a few weeks since Aston Villa missed a tax bill payment to HMRC, and since CEO Keith Wyness was dismissed from his position at the club - but apart from a few incoming loans (financial, not player deals), not much has actually happened. While things aren’t exactly getting worse, the situation is certainly getting heavier and more frustrating to tackle as the days tick on. I know I’m not the only Villa fan who feels thick, throbbing stress behind the eyes when I think about the club right now. Every single revelation, or rumoured revelation doesn’t do much to ease that, either.

The latest ‘news’ from the Daily Mirror doesn’t help either. According to the paper, Dr Tony Xia, Villa’s Owner and Chairman, admitted to club officials that he will refuse to sell the club to ‘Americans’. Why? Well, there’s a story to tell.

Anyone with a passing interest in current events will know of simmering tensions between the United States of America and (INSERT NATION HERE) the People’s Republic of China related to international trade. It’s being called a trade war, and without delving into politics right here and now, it’s one that President Donald Trump thinks he’ll win - with ease. China doesn’t think so; so you’ve got a bit of to-and-fro in regards to tariffs set by both nations. China will protect their interests, the US theirs. It’s tit-for-tat and while there are some very real concerns behind all of this at the high levels, it’s the low-level workers who will take the fall of this.

How does this involve Xia, if at all? Well - in theory - quite heavily. Xia as a Chinese businessman based in China with external interests would be quite affected by this ‘Cold War’ of sorts, especially if he were to sell his assets to American investors. Why? Well, that’s easy.

Miànzi is the business concept of honour, or ‘face’ within the Chinese economy. Reputation is almost everything in Chinese business. Failure, in any form, can be a big blow to reputation. As June turned into July, the investigative site VillaLeaks found that Tony Xia had been publicly rebuked by the Shanghai Stock Exchange after his involvement in a sale via his Lotus Health business was found to be less than transparent. This situation is extremely common in the West, but in China this public shaming is extremely hard to bounce back from. Over here, many business owners of high standing seem to get away with a lot more than concealing documents, and even then - public shaming is almost never the end as old boy’s networks are always, always on hand to help them find work, or a good investment. Xia, on the other hand, if all is true, may be ‘damaged goods’ as far as Chinese investors are concerned.

That, in itself, is incredibly worrying. If Xia can’t attract foreign investment right now due to politics, he’ll struggle to attract domestic investment because of Miànzi.

What’s more - if this situation wasn’t complex enough, Dr Tony Xia may have strong connections to the Chinese president - Xi Jinping. Xia’s Lotus Health were hit hard by the media when they appointed Xi’s cousin to the board of the company amid accusations of cronyism and nepotism. If he is linked in this manner, then he isn’t there to question. Subordinates are not there to question - but to listen - in that climate. Effectively, if true, he’s at the state’s command.

So when a pack of Americans come to Villa Park with an offer (the exact offer that Xia is rumoured to want for a stake in the club - investment, with him remaining in control), Tony Xia is at once in a situation where he can’t accept it, but can’t reject it. It’s important to note that Xia is not physically based at the club, and it seems that his staff are trying to broker deals - before the owner comes in and vetoes their work. So when a consortium are being shown around, they’ll have to wait until Villa’s domestic team get in touch with Xia before any decision can be made, on anything. Even if Xia is acting on his own, it’d be incredibly on-brand for the outspoken Chairman to reject a bid from an American group on a whim.

People have been very quick to dismiss the story, but personally, I think there’s something here - especially if you’ve been following developments in China over the past two years. Unfortunately, everything we’re hearing and discussing only raises questions that are difficult to answer. For example, with football being massive in China, what if Xia is being ‘made’ to hold onto Villa to protect the nation’s foreign interests in the sport? It’s all worth considering. A Chinese flag hangs over Villa Park, and if Xia is any patriot at all, there could well be something here. As for the actual truth about what is going on at Aston Villa, we probably won’t find out unless there is a court case involving the club and the situation.

So, are Villa caught up in a trade war between the States and China? It’s likely. Stranger things have happened. Then again, not a word of this could be true. We’ll probably never know.