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Market data provided by Interactive Data. ETF and Mutual Fund data provided by Morningstar, Inc. P Index data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. Powered and implemented by Interactive Data Managed Solutions. The United Arab Emirates, to which Dubai belongs, need to diversify their energy mix. Workers broke ground in early November for a plant expected to be finished in 2023. In this petroleum-dominated region, there isn’t much coal-power expertise.
But that won’t be a problem for Dubai, thanks to help from unusual sources. 4 billion in funding from the Chinese government and banks and is being built by Chinese construction crews. Why such largesse for an emirate swimming in oil wealth? Because Dubai is one of the nations China is targeting as part of One Belt, One Road, an ambitious foreign-investment project designed to boost China’s trade and diplomatic ties with more than 60 countries in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa.
900 billion worth of projects are underway or planned, according to the China Development Bank, and the first ones are almost finished. 1 billion thermal-power plant in Karachi should be completed by the end of next year, just 40 months after construction started. One Belt, One Road represents China’s biggest overseas spending effort ever, a project that, adjusted for inflation, is at least 12 times the size of the Marshall Plan, the history-changing U. Western Europe from rubble after World War II. The effort is already seeding power plants, railroads, and pipelines in emerging-market countries starving for such backbone investments.
Just as with the Marshall Plan, there’s far more than altruism in play. China’s huge state-owned infrastructure companies, hampered by their own country’s gradual slowdown, need projects that will keep their foundries blazing and their workers paid while the nation makes the transition to a less industrial, more consumer-driven economy. China earn diplomatic goodwill at a time when the U. But that doesn’t mean Western companies won’t benefit. Hassyan plant might struggle to get off the drawing board. Rachel Duan, president and CEO of GE Greater China, tells Fortune. 8 billion division has 23,000 employees whose main business is partnering with Chinese companies across 34 joint ventures in China that manufacture everything from wind turbines to oil pipeline equipment.
Whether the projects will pay off down the road is an open question: Some critics argue that China is funding them indiscriminately in a global pork-barrel push to build alliances. But in the short run, Belt and Road is creating opportunities for Chinese companies and big multinationals alike—ones that their shareholders can’t ignore. The New Silk Road Belt and Road has a historical precedent: the ancient Silk Road that for hundreds of years connected Chinese traders with those in the Middle East and Europe via the Eurasian steppes, Palestine, and Turkey. The program, which was formally announced in 2013, is the brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Xi has already amassed power in military and economic affairs faster than any other modern Chinese leader, says Willy Lam, an expert on Chinese politics and a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Expanding China’s influence abroad is Xi’s next priority, and Belt and Road is designed to do just that.
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The Belt is the land-based component of Xi’s strategy to meet that demand. It’s a network of railroads, oil pipelines, and other projects that runs northwest from China through Kazakhstan and Russia. China to Indonesia and west to Africa, the Middle East, and southern Europe. But the money promised to the new project is anything but superficial. China Builds a New Silk Road The famed Silk Road trading routes once connected China with medieval Europe.
AIIB’s board is searching for worthwhile endeavors—and so is China’s domestic bureaucracy. Arthur Kroeber of the Hong Kong-based research firm Gavekal Dragonomics wrote recently. It is essentially up to Xi’s administration to choose the projects. China’s central government decides the countries it wants to work with, and those countries nominate projects for funding. China’s selections reflect both commercial and political interests, analysts say. China is more likely to invest in collaborations that could eventually offer a positive return.
The Money Trail Some Belt and Road projects are already underway. 23 billion high-speed rail line could someday stretch from China through Thailand to Singapore. In southern Pakistan along the Arabian Sea, two large coal-fired power plants are going up. For China that’s essentially domestic stimulus: Top Chinese officials have noted that Belt and Road projects can soak up excess steel and iron from Chinese companies hurt by the waning of their nation’s building frenzy. China’s goal is eventually to attract private investors in projects that are economically viable. But the EPCs—firms like State Construction International, Metallurgical Corp.
That’s where the West comes in. In effect, the state-owned construction firms will be taking on debt and investing—while hiring Western engineering and construction giants as their subcontractors. Who Could Win in the West Who will the EPCs rely on? Most of these companies have headquarters in countries that haven’t joined the AIIB, but their home governments haven’t stopped them from bidding on the building spree. 20 billion in additional annual sales for the companies over the next few years, PwC estimates. Some Western companies are still angling for early projects.