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China’s Asian Infrastructure Bank needs borrowers...badly

By Stewart Taggart - posted Thursday, 4 February 2016

China's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is being used to channel China's trade surpluses into overseas infrastructure projects for Chinese state champions like State Grid Corp. of China and China National Overseas Oil Company (CNOOC).

After years of exporting to the world, China's now struggling to keep her economy moving amid a slowing global economy.

The alternative could be political unrest among a populace choking on pollution that's increasingly rendering hollow President Xi Jinping's 'Chinese Dream.'


Overseas infrastructure,therefore, represents a key pump-priming relief valve for the Chinese economy.

Understanding China's deep need for overseas infrastructure export projects t can significantly strengthen the negotiating power ofAIIB borrowers. That's because China needs employment-generating overseas outward investment as much as AIIB borrowers need infrastructure make overs.

Faced with a slowing domestic economy already choking on wasteful infrastructure investment, China must 'keep pedaling' (ie to maintain momentum in its infrastructure industry) or fall off (suffer politically-destabilizing rising domestic unemployment in key infrastructure industries).

China's leaders knows this. It's economic orthodoxy at this point that China must re-orient her economy away from excess investment increasing wasteful domestic infrastructure and toward domestic consumption. But that transition won't happen overnight. Building overseas infrastructure buys time.

This levels the power relationship.

Using the bicycle analogy, the AIIB is the legs and China's infrastructure state champions like State Grid Corp. of China and China National Overseas Oil Company (CNOOC) are the wheels. Viewed this way, the AIIB is a domestic Chinese macroeconomic management tool, not a benevolent diplomatic gift to the world -- as China likes to portray.


Appreciating this fact can help AIIB borrowers get a better deal.

Consider the Philippines: in 2008, the country awarded a 25-year contract to State Grid to upgrade and operate the ramshackle Philippine electricity grid, which is vital national infrastructure.

The deal was symbiotic. State Grid got a key overseas demonstration project. The Philippines got to engage in overseas infrastructure investment where other global infrastructure companies were hesitant to tread.

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About the Author

Stewart Taggart is principal of Grenatec, a non-profit research organizing studying the viability of a Pan-Asian Energy Infrastructure. A former journalist, he is co-founder of the DESERTEC Foundation, which advocates a similar network to bring North African solar energy to Europe.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Stewart Taggart

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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