21:38 GMT01 December 2020
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    The former chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of China, Li Ruogu, has warned about the credit risks associated with China's One Belt, One Road Initiative. Li Ruogu and other Chinese state bankers believe that in order to implement the initiative large capital injections are required.

    The Chinese business publication Caixin, with reference to Li Ruogu, has noted that support for the initiative is mainly in countries whose credit rating does not exceed BB. So who will become the main investor in the One Belt, One Road Initiative? Beijing’s One Belt, One Road Initiative is, in fact, a concept of development of trade and economic cooperation based on mutual benefit. Only this concept does not fit into the traditional understanding of a customs union, for example, NAFTA, the CIS Free Trade Zone or even the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Nations participating in the One Belt, One Road Initiative cannot be grouped either by geographical features, or by the level of development and structure of their economy. Countries in Europe, Central and East Asia, Africa and even Oceania are among the nations participating in the initiative.

    In order for trade and economic cooperation between countries to develop in a uniformed format, they need to create comparable basic infrastructure: ports, transshipment stations, logistics centers, etc. That is why the countries with emerging markets are especially supportive of the One Belt, One Road Initiative, because they see it as a chance for them to create an infrastructure that is currently missing for further economic development.

    The problem is also that these countries are over-credited, while they do not have enough of their own funds. Li Ruogu notes that in these countries average liability and debt ratios are, on average, 35 and 126 percent, respectively, far above the globally recognized warning lines of 20 and 100 percent. Therefore, he believes, it is very risky to invest billions in countries with a credit rating below investment grade.

    The question is also who will implement these investments. Deputy chief of the Development Research Center of the State Council of the People's Republic of China, Wang Yiming, recently noted, according to the South China Morning post that the bulk of all the projects in the Belt and Road Initiative are being financed by major financial institutions — including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the New Development Bank of BRICS, the China Development Bank (CDB), the Export-Import Bank of China and the Silk Road Fund — and yet, the One Belt, One Road Initiative is still hugely underfunded,  up to $500 billion a year.

    READ MORE: EU Mulls Joining US in Trade War With China in Bid to Ease Tariffs — Reports

    A way out of this situation could be the attraction of private investment. However, as ex-president of the Export-Import Bank of China, Li Ruogu noted, the diversity and the lack of transparency of the legislation in these countries in the field of market access, exchange rate policies and severe tax regimes may put off private investors.

    However, private capital is traditionally reluctant to invest in infrastructure construction. This is a long-term investment, and their return is not easy to calculate. Therefore, the attractiveness for private investors is an internal problem for the participating countries, for the Belt and Road Initiative this won't be a problem, believes the director of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, Jia Jinjing.

    “It is necessary to evaluate correctly what Li Ruogu said. He spoke about the state of the economies within countries. The key word here is internal. And the One Belt, One Road Initiative, in its essence, is an international, global initiative. And although this initiative was proposed by China, cooperation within this initiative doesn't necessarily need to go through China. Other countries can also cooperate directly with each other. In addition, the problem of lack of funds, over-lending, objectively all of this existed before the Belt and Road Initiative. This will not in any way interfere with the implementation of the initiative. On the contrary, the Belt and Road Initiative is, in part, there to gradually solve this problem,” he told Sputnik.

    However, not all countries think this to be the case. The US, in particular, fears that China is using the resources of international financial institutions, including the World Bank, to finance its Belt and Road initiative. Recently, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim on changing the bank's credit policy. So, the US promises to lobby the increase in WB capital by the country's shareholders by $13 billion. But the bank, at the same time, should reduce lending to China and send more funds to developing countries. Technically, this means that China will receive loans from the WB at a higher rate. Therefore, it will be more difficult to attract these funds to finance the One Belt, One Road Initiative.

    On the other hand, US President Donald Trump is actually advertising the One Belt, One Road Initiative. First, Washington withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Then the rhetoric of a trade war against China began and the subsequent trade tariffs. This behavior does not seem to inspire confidence on the part of other countries in the US as a stable and reliable trade partner. Therefore even old allies, for example, Japan, are being forced to look towards the Chinese initiative. Against this background the meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries — Taro Kono and Wang Yi is well timed.

    During the meeting held on Sunday in Tokyo, they spoke in defense of economic globalization and the principles of free trade. Taro Kono said that Japan is ready to cooperate with China within the framework of the One Belt, One Road Initiative. Previously, Japanese media had reported that Japan wanted China to cooperate with it on its own project for the development of road networks in Africa, primarily the construction of a transport corridor between Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo. Beijing stands to only benefits from this. The country will likely continue to actively attract strong economies to cooperate in the initiative to make it more solid, to share responsibility for the risks of the One Belt, One Road Initiative.

    The views of Jia Jinjing do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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