Believe it or not, U.S. companies’ biggest antitrust irritant may not be Lina Khan’s Federal Trade Commission. International regulators—mainly in China and Britain—are increasingly elbowing their way into foreign deals that don’t obviously require their attention. The latest example is Intel’s decision on Wednesday to walk away from its $5.4 billion acquisition of Israeli chipmaker Tower Semiconductor because it couldn’t get approval from the Chinese government. What’s worse: When it comes to China in particular, there’s no rhyme or reason to regulatory decisions.
In the case of the Intel-Tower deal, China’s problems with it are almost certainly a result of growing China-U.S. political tensions, which have prompted the Chinese to hold up several U.S. merger deals, as this Wall Street Journal article explained earlier this year. It’s hard to see why there would be an antitrust issue for the Intel chip deal otherwise. Asia (excluding Japan) accounted for only about a quarter of Tower’s $1.7 billion in revenue last year, or about $436 million. That hardly moves the needle for Intel’s China market position, given that the U.S. chip firm generated $17 billion in revenue from China last year.