Peter Thiel is a self-described contrarian. This philosophy worked well when he helped establish an online bank at a time few people trusted anything on the internet and more recently, with his bet on the ultimate long-shot presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Understanding where his latest gambit, a very public rebuke of the world’s second-largest economy, fits into this strategy is as complex as his belief system.

In a pair of recent public appearances, Thiel diverged from virtually everyone in the global business community by stoking anti-China sentiment and goading the Trump administration to intensify the trade war. Thiel can take this position because, either by accident or by design, the Chinese economy is largely irrelevant to his business interests.

Thiel’s network of venture capital and personal funds manages more than $7 billion and has bet on hundreds of startups. Of those, there are only three known investments in Chinese companies, according to a study by market research firm PitchBook commissioned by Bloomberg. The most recent was in a small Beijing-based biotech startup early this year. None of the companies appear to be thriving.

Depending on how you look at it, Thiel’s new Chinese offensive is a bitter response to missing the investment opportunity of the decade or a brilliant long game that’s finally coming to a climax. His protectionist rhetoric, in which he accused Google of “seemingly treasonous” collaborations with the Chinese government, initially won plaudits from President Trump and could return benefits to his companies. A spokesman for Thiel declined to comment.

Three of Thiel’s most promising investments—Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., data mining company Palantir Technologies Inc. and border security provider Anduril Industries Inc.—rely heavily on U.S. contracts. Those deals have grown in size, and the companies now supply critical capabilities to the nation’s defense and military complex.

Although federal contract approvals are supposed to be an objective process, emotional appeals and a sense of patriotism can have an effect, said Mike Hermus, a former technology chief for Homeland Security. “The people who make decisions are still human,” he said. “People can only compartmentalize so much.”

Thiel didn’t always look on China with scorn. He once viewed it as an economic wonder and characterized its rise as “the most important political trend of the new millennium.” In a 2008 essay for Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, a public policy think tank, Thiel wrote: “There is no good scenario for the world in which China fails.” By 2014, his curiosity took on a dismissive tone. In his book Zero to One, he wrote that Chinese technologists simply copied ideas from the West.

“There is no good scenario for the world in which China fails.”

A persistent view Thiel has held is that China doesn’t make it easy for foreigners to buy a stake in the country’s prosperity. “I suspect we are underestimating China, but it may be very hard to invest,” he told economist Tyler Cowen in 2015. In the meantime, several of his peers found ways in. Yuri Milner’s DST Global and Sequoia Capital have been backing Chinese startups for a decade or more, with bets on the likes of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., Inc. and Xiaomi Corp. that proved to be incredibly lucrative.

Thiel’s picks, meanwhile, haven’t become household names on the mainland. He invested $180,000 a decade ago in a Shanghai market intelligence startup called Business Connect China, said a spokeswoman for his venture firm Founders Fund. (She disputed that Business Connect China is a Chinese company because it’s incorporated in the Cayman Islands.) According to PitchBook research, Thiel bought an undisclosed amount of stock in Beijing’s Genome Precision in 2016. And this year’s investment was in Immunochina, which has raised less than $30 million from a half-dozen backers including Thiel to develop cancer treatments.

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