Thu Feb 4, 2016 08:18 AM CST

BEIJING (Dow Jones) -- As he spends tens of billions of dollars to buy European businesses, the chairman of China National Chemical Corp. likes to set himself apart from other chiefs of state-owned Chinese companies, saying he is more interested in performance than politics.

In meetings with reporters and business associates, Ren Jianxin often recalls his entrepreneurial roots: Taking a $3,600 loan to found an industrial-cleaning company that grew into a chemicals empire that the government then took over and made him head. "We're 100% owned by the government," he told journalists last March, "but our path of development has ...

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