China is looking to buy EU factories and railways instead of wobbly government bonds as prices fall amid the eurozone crisis.
Minister of commerce Chen Deming articulated the strategy at a business congress in China on Monday (28 November).
"Next year, we will send a delegation for promoting trade and investment to the European countries ... Some European countries are facing a debt crisis and hope to convert their assets to cash and would like foreign capital to acquire their enterprises. We will be closely watching and pushing forward the process," he said.
Chen's remarks come after the chief of the $410 billion Chinese Investment Corporation, Lou Jiwei, wrote in an op-ed in the Financial Times on Sunday that EU infrastructure needs outside help.
"Traditionally, Chinese involvement in overseas infrastructure projects has been as a contractor only. Now, Chinese investors also see a need to invest in, develop and operate projects," he explained.
Lou praised the UK as "one of the most open economies in the world" and mentioned involvement in a new UK north-south railway project in the context of political hostility to China in some countries.
Chinese port operator Cosco last year bought a 35-year lease for two container terminals in debt-struck Greece. But crisis-hit Iceland last week blocked the sale of a large farm to Chinese businessman Huang Nubo on national security grounds.
Huang said he wanted to build a hotel and a golf course.
Speaking to the Sina Finance news agency, he hit out at what he called European "prejudice ... like the view that state-owned enterprises represent your country, that whatever your background is you're a military business."
"You can come and buy a house, and you can emigrate here and bring your riches with you, or you can buy my luxury goods, but if you want to touch my natural resources, then I'm sorry, I won't let you."
The EU in recent weeks had tried to interest China in buying weak European bonds instead through a special purpose investment vehicle.
For their part, Chinese analysts predict the spending spree will not begin until prices hit rock bottom.
"The euro zone crisis has not entirely played out and asset prices are very volatile. They haven't found their floor ... Europe is not a resources player, but its manufacturers are what would most interest us, with their market, their technology, and their strong experience," Wang Jun, an economist at the Beijing-based CCIEE think-tank told us.
No. The problem is that the infrastructure turns out to be worth a hell of a lot less than the minerals. Fortunately, Washington has had the foresight to top up the dictator’s Swiss bank account. Problem solved! As for the mining operation, the Americans really don’t want to be bothered by minimum wages or trade unions. They’re banned. And no complaints from the workforce, please, because no one wants a repeat of that “misunderstanding” in which an American mine supervisor opened fire on stroppy employees.
If the United States embarked on this sort of colonial experiment, it would produce a furious “Occupy Grosvenor Square” camp outside the US embassy and a withering play by Sir David Hare at the National. But since these things are actually being done not by America but by the People’s Republic of China across the entire African continent, the “anti-colonialist” Left just yawns.
Ordinary Africans care, of course. The subject of China will loom large in Monday’s election in Congo, though since President Joseph Kabila has arranged to be re-elected, it won’t affect the result. It was Kabila who approved a $6 billion copper-for-infrastructure barter deal with China. Unfortunately, the sale of state mines has left Congo with a $5.5 billion black hole in its budget. Meanwhile, The Economist reports: “The sale of mining licenses at below-market value to firms associated with friends of the president has raised eyebrows.”
I can’t say it raised my eyebrows. How else do you think China does business in Africa? It suffered a setback in Zambia last year when President Michael Sata was elected on an anti-Chinese ticket. But Sata hasn’t fulfilled his promise to regulate Zambia’s Chinese-run copper mines, branded “dangerously unsafe” by Human Rights Watch. And this week none other than ex-president Dr Kenneth Kaunda was in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to discuss “deepening substantial co-operation”.
There’s a school of thought which says that China’s modus operandi, however brutal, at least gets things built. In contrast, Western aid is tipped into dictators’ pockets without anything to show for it. But the benefits of Beijing’s “investment” are elusive, because the Chinese don’t usually employ Africans to perform anything but menial tasks. Chinese construction engineers build motorways and hospitals without passing on the skills to maintain them. The result: everything falls into disrepair within a decade, by which time the copper is safely out of the ground.
From a moral point of view, China’s policy towards Africa is despicable. But it’s ingenious, too. Beijing has worked out that, by virtue of being a non-Western power, it can pose as a “developing country” while creating its sub-Saharan satrapies. The anti-racism lobby in the United Nations makes sure that the finger of guilt is pointed firmly at the former colonial powers, who are always happy to put on a display of breast-beating by, say, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Meanwhile, something close to slavery is being quietly reintroduced to the dark continent (which is how China thinks of it).
For 50 years, it’s been unclear in which direction Africans were heading. Now the question is almost irrelevant: the decision has been made for them....