China’s modern Silk Road hits political, financial hurdles

Above, work is in progress at a site of the Pakistan China Silk Road in Haripur, Pakistan. Pakistan’s relations with Beijing are so close that officials call China their “Iron Brother.” (AP)
Updated 11 January 2018

China’s modern Silk Road hits political, financial hurdles

BEIJING: China’s plan for a modern Silk Road of railways, ports and other facilities linking Asia with Europe hit a $14 billion pothole in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s relations with Beijing are so close that officials call China their “Iron Brother.” Despite that, plans for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were thrown into turmoil in November when the chairman of Pakistan’s water authority said Beijing wanted an ownership stake in the hydropower project. He rejected that as against Pakistani interests.
China issued a denial but the official withdrew the dam from among dozens of projects being jointly developed by the two countries.
From Pakistan to Tanzania to Hungary, projects under President Xi Jinping’s signature “Belt and Road Initiative” are being canceled, renegotiated or delayed due to disputes about costs or complaints host countries get too little out of projects built by Chinese companies and financed by loans from Beijing that must be repaid.
In some places, Beijing is suffering a political backlash due to fears of domination by Asia’s biggest economy.
“Pakistan is one of the countries that is in China’s hip pocket, and for Pakistan to stand up and say, ‘I’m not going to do this with you,’ shows it’s not as ‘win-win’ as China says it is,” said Robert Koepp, an analyst in Hong Kong for the Economist Corporate Network, a research firm.
“Belt and Road,” announced by Xi in 2013, is a loosely defined umbrella for Chinese-built or -financed projects across 65 countries from the South Pacific through Asia to Africa and Europe. They range from oil drilling in Siberia to construction of ports in Southeast Asia, railways in Eastern Europe and power plants in the Middle East.
Other governments welcomed the initiative in a region the Asian Development Bank says needs more than $26 trillion of infrastructure investment by 2030 to keep economies growing. Nations including Japan have given or lent billions of dollars for development, but China’s venture is bigger and the only source of money for many projects.
Governments from Washington to Moscow to New Delhi are uneasy Beijing is trying to use its “Belt and Road” to develop a China-centered political structure that will erode their influence.
China’s significance to Pakistan as a source of financing increased following US President Donald Trump’s January 5 decision to suspend security assistance to Islamabad in a dispute over whether it was doing enough to stop Afghan militants.
“Belt and Road” is a business venture, not aid. A Cabinet official, Ou Xiaoli, told The Associated Press in April that lending will be on commercial terms. Beijing wants to attract non-Chinese investors, though that has happened with only a handful of projects, he said.
Among projects that have been derailed or disrupted:
— Authorities in Nepal canceled plans in November for Chinese companies to build a $2.5 billion dam after they concluded contracts for the Budhi Gandaki Hydro Electric Project violated rules requiring multiple bidders.
— The EU is looking into whether Hungary violated the trade bloc’s rules by awarding contracts to Chinese builders of a high-speed railway to neighboring Serbia without competing bids.
— In Myanmar, plans for a Chinese oil company to build a $3 billion refinery were canceled in November due to financing difficulties, the newspaper Myanmar Times reported.
There is no official list of projects, but consulting firm BMI Research has compiled a database of $1.8 trillion of infrastructure investments announced across Asia, Africa and the Middle East that include Chinese money or other involvement.
Many are still in planning stages and some up to three decades in the future, according to Christian Zhang, a BMI analyst.
“It’s probably too early to say at this point how much of the overall initiative will actually be implemented,” said Zhang.
“There is a big possibility that China is going to have a lot of disagreements and misunderstandings,” said Kerry Brown, a specialist in Chinese politics at King’s College London. “It’s hard to think of a big, successful project the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ has led to at the moment.”
Even Pakistan, one of China’s friendliest neighbors, has failed to agree on key projects.
The two governments are developing facilities with a total cost of $60 billion including power plants and railways to link China’s far west with the Chinese-built port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean.
A visit by a Chinese assistant foreign minister in November produced no agreement on railway projects in the southern city of Karachi valued at $10 billion and a $260 million airport for Gwadar.
The same month, the chairman of the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority announced the Diamer-Bhasha Dam would be withdrawn from joint development. The site is in Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan’s far north, part of the Kashmir region, which also is claimed by India.
“Chinese conditions for financing the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were not doable and against our interests,” the official, Muzammil Hussain, told legislators, according to Pakistani news reports.
The Chinese Cabinet agency overseeing “Belt and Road,” the National Development and Reform Commission, denied in a written statement that it asked for an ownership stake. It said the two sides had held only preliminary talks about the project.
A Pakistani Cabinet official who spoke on condition he not be identified further said the Chinese side asked for clarification of the ownership status of the dam site because Gilgit-Baltistan has yet to be formally made part of a Pakistani province. The water authority didn’t respond to requests to clarify its chairman’s comments.
“Belt and Road” is interwoven with official efforts to export Chinese rail, hydropower and other technology and steel, aluminum and other industrial goods.


Global financial markets may be overconfident, IMF warns

Updated 28 January 2021

Global financial markets may be overconfident, IMF warns

  • ‘Financial stability risks have been in check so far, but we cannot take this for granted’

WASHINGTON: Investors may have become overly complacent about financial conditions, creating the risk of a sharp downturn in markets, the IMF said Wednesday.
While policymakers must keep interest rates low to ensure economies recover from the COVID-19 crisis, they also must remain vigilant about potential problems, the IMF cautioned in the latest update to its Global Financial Stability Report.
“Financial stability risks have been in check so far, but we cannot take this for granted,” said Tobias Adrian, head of the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department.
With borrowing rates at record lows and new vaccines boosting hopes of a solid recovery in activity this year, prices for stocks, corporate bonds and other risky assets have risen globally, while markets have shrugged off new waves of coronavirus infections.
Adrian said the concern is that values have become “stretched,” pointing to the tech sector where “we’re detecting some frothiness.”
Technology companies have seen a huge increase in share prices, as many have benefitted from the pandemic and trends toward shopping online and working from home.
In US markets, the S&P information technology sector jumped 42 percent in 2020, while increases among major companies were stunning: Apple surged 82 percent, Amazon 76 percent, Facebook 33 percent and Google-parent Alphabet 31 percent.
Markets are “betting that continued policy support will offset any bad economic news in the short term and provide a bridge to the future,” Adrian said.
But the “disconnect between exuberant financial markets” and the lagging economic recovery “raises the specter of a possible market correction.”
The Washington-based crisis lender, which projects global growth will recover by 5.5 percent this year, has hammered home the message that governments should continue to provide as much economic support as possible.
“Reducing or withdrawing support at this stage could jeopardize the global economic recovery,” Adrian said.
However, policymakers must be watching for “unintended consequences” of stimulative policies.
“You want risk taking, but you don’t want excessive risk taking. Getting the balance right is really the goal of regulation that has to accompany monetary policy at all times,” he said in a press briefing.
While banks have sufficient capital and have maintained the flow of credit, that may change if institutions become concerned about debt levels or creditors’ abilities to repay loans, the report cautioned.
And Adrian said regulators must look not just at individual institutions, but at interconnections between banks – something that was missed in the runup to the 2008-2010 global financial crisis.