China's $50bn spending spree on new Silk Road

Ben Chu
Thursday 03 October 2013 01:00
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China has spent more than $50bn (£31bn) in the past three months on energy and infrastructure deals in central Asia as Beijing seeks to establish a "new Silk Road" through the region.

Chinese outbound investment totalled just over $100bn in the third quarter of 2013 with around half of that sum spent in the central Asian states visited by the Chinese president Xi Jinping on an official tour last month.

"Investment closely tracks where the [Beijing] government turns up," said Henry Tillman, the chief executive of the merchant bank Grisons Peak which compiled the figures. "We've not noticed such a strong correlation before".

Xi visited Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in September and signed sizable business deals with all four countries. The pattern of spending confirms that Chinese foreign investment flows are largely determined by the political leadership. "Everyone thinks that's the case. But those are the numbers," said Mr Tillman.

China has come under criticism for engaging in modern-day "colonialism" for its extensive energy and infrastructure investments and soft loans in Africa over the past decade. Beijing has also been accused of propping up repressive regimes in the continent. But others have pointed out that attitudes to China among many ordinary Africans are often more positive than attitudes towards Western states.

China's largest financial agreements over the third quarter were related to energy infrastructure projects. In Kazakhstan China signed 22 agreements worth a combined total of $30bn. This included a $5bn deal for the China National Petroleum Corporation to acquire an 8 per cent stake in the Kashagan Oil & Gas field.

In Uzbekistan China signed 31 deals worth $15.5bn. The two countries agreed to build another oil pipeline, taking the total to four. And China is already funding the construction of an Uzbek-Chinese cross-border railway line. China concluded $7.6bn worth of deals in Turkmenistan, including the construction of a new pipeline. In Kyrgyzstan China signed eight agreements worth $5bn, the largest of which was a $1.4bn loan to build a new gas pipeline.

China also signed 36 co-operation agreements with an aggregate value of $1.5bn with Belarus. This included a soft loan from China's state-owned development bank, Exim, to construct Belarus's first nuclear power plant.

"What they don't buy in mergers and acquisitions they lend you to build roads, pipelines and high-speed rail," said Mr Tillman. "I think they're re-creating the Great Silk Road. It's a strong statement." The Silk Road was the 4,000-mile ancient trading route that connected China to Europe, via central Asia, Persia and modern-day Turkey.

The $101.8bn of Chinese foreign investment over the quarter, which included deals signed in Venezuela and across Africa, represents the largest sum China has committed abroad since the second quarter of 2011, and is up 40 per cent on the same quarter a year ago.

Analysts say this splurge reflects the determination of the new administration of Xi Jinping to secure China's global energy supplies and to open up emerging market economies to Chinese manufactured goods.

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