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How Chinese Financing is Fueling Megaprojects Around the World

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How Chinese Financing is Fueling Megaprojects Around the World

How Chinese Financing is Fueling the World’s Megaprojects

On a mountaintop a few miles north of the bustling streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, a curving, modern complex is beginning to take shape. This building, once completed, will be the home of the African country’s parliament, and the centerpiece of a new section of the capital city.

Aside from the striking design, there’s another unique twist to this development — the entire $140 million project is a gift from Beijing. At first glance, gifting a country a new parliament building may seem extravagant, but the project is a tiny portion of China’s $270 billion in “diplomacy spending” since 2000.

AidData, a research lab at the W&M Global Research Institute, has compiled a massive database of Chinese-backed projects spanning from 2000–2017. In aggregate, it creates a comprehensive look at China’s efforts to grow its influence in countries around the world, particularly in Africa and South Asia.

Beijing has ramped up the volume and sophistication of its public diplomacy overtures, […] but infrastructure as a part of its financial diplomacy dwarfs Beijing’s other public diplomacy tools.

– Samantha Custer, Director of Policy Analysis, AidData

Below, we’ll look at three diplomacy spending hotspots around the world, and learn about key Chinese-funded megaprojects, from power plants to railway systems.

1. Pakistan

In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jingping visited Islamabad to inaugurate the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), kicking off a $46 billion investment that has transformed Pakistan’s transportation system and power grid. CPEC is designed to cement the strategic relationship between the two countries, and is a portion of China’s massive One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.

CPEC investment China to Pakistan

One of the largest projects financed by China was the Karachi Nuclear Power K2/K3 project. This massive power generation project is primarily bankrolled by China’s state-owned Exim Bank which has kicked in over $6.6 billion over three phases of payments.

Billions of dollars in Chinese capital has also funded everything from highway construction to renewable energy projects across Pakistan. Pakistan’s youth unemployment rate sits as high as 40%, so jobs created by new infrastructure investments are a welcome prospect. In 2014, Pakistan had the highest public approval rating of China in the world, with nearly 80% respondents holding a favorable view of China.

2. Ethiopia

Ethiopia has seen a number of changes within its borders thanks to Chinese financing. This is particularly evident in its capital, Addis Ababa, where a slew of transportation projects — from new ring roads to Sub-Saharan Africa’s first metro system — transformed the city.

china ethiopia investment

One of the most striking symbols of Chinese influence in Addis Ababa is the futuristic African Union (AU) headquarters. The $200 million complex was gifted to the city by Beijing in 2012.

Though Ethiopia is a clear example of Chinese investment transforming a country’s infrastructure, a number of other African nations have experienced a similar influx of money from Beijing. This financing pipeline has increased dramatically in recent years.

chinese loans to africa

3. Sri Lanka

In the wake of political turmoil, Sri Lanka is increasingly looking to China for loans. From 2000 to 2017, over $12 billion in loans and grants have poured into the deeply-indebted country.

Perhaps the most contentious symbol of the relationship between the two countries is a port on the south coast of the island nation, at a strategic point along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The Hambantota Port project — which was completed in 2011 — followed a now familiar path. Eschewing an open bidding process, Beijing’s government financed the project and hired a state-owned firm to construct the port, primarily using Chinese workers.

By 2017, Sri Lanka’s government was burdened by debt the previous administration had taken on. After months of negotiations, the port was handed over with the land around it leased to China for 99 years. This handover was a strategic victory for China, which now has a shipping foothold within close proximity of its regional rival, India.

John Adams said infamously that a way to subjugate a country is through either the sword or debt. China has chosen the latter.

– Brahma Chellaney

Playing the Long Game

Africa’s economic rise will likely be a major contributor to global growth in coming years. Already, six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are located in Africa. China is also the top trading partner on the continent, with the United States sitting in third place.

OBOR spending has also earned China plenty of influence in the rest of Asia as well. If the ambitious megaproject continues along its current trajectory, China will be the central player in a more prosperous, interconnected Asia.

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Which Countries Have the Most Economic Influence in Southeast Asia?

One country dominates this survey of who has the most economic influence in the region.

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A cropped bar chart depicting the countries/ regions identified by respondents as having the greatest economic influence in Southeast Asia.

Countries With the Most Economic Influence in Southeast Asia

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

This chart visualizes the results of a 2024 survey conducted by the ASEAN Studies Centre at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Nearly 2,000 respondents from 10 countries were asked to select which country/region they believe has the most influential economic power in Southeast Asia.

The countries surveyed are all member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a political and economic union of 10 countries in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia Perceptions: Who’s Got Economic Influence?

Across all ASEAN nations, China is regarded as the region’s most influential economic power.

Laos and Thailand had the highest share of respondents picking China, at 78% and 71% respectively. As the report points out, China is Laos’ largest foreign investor as well as its top export market.

Country🇨🇳 China🌏 ASEAN🇺🇸 U.S.
🇧🇳 Brunei64%18%8%
🇰🇭 Cambodia60%11%20%
🇮🇩 Indonesia54%28%8%
🇱🇦 Laos78%8%8%
🇲🇾 Malaysia67%17%9%
🇲🇲 Myanmar60%7%20%
🇵🇭 Philippines31%26%28%
🇸🇬 Singapore60%15%21%
🇹🇭 Thailand71%9%11%
🇻🇳 Vietnam53%29%11%

Note: Percentages are rounded.

Other ASEAN countries usually score highly as well, along with the United States.

It’s only in the Philippines, where China (31%), the U.S. (28%) and ASEAN (26%) were perceived as having a similar amount of influence.

ASEAN, Japan, and the EU

Filipinos also rated Japan’s economic influence the highest (9%) compared to those surveyed in other ASEAN countries. In 2023, the Southeast Asian bloc celebrated 50 years of friendship with Japan, marking it as one of their most important “dialogue partners.”

Country🇯🇵 Japan🇪🇺 EU🌐 Other
🇧🇳 Brunei3%1%7%
🇰🇭 Cambodia1%5%3%
🇮🇩 Indonesia5%1%3%
🇱🇦 Laos1%4%1%
🇲🇾 Malaysia4%0%2%
🇲🇲 Myanmar6%6%2%
🇵🇭 Philippines9%4%3%
🇸🇬 Singapore3%0%2%
🇹🇭 Thailand3%4%4%
🇻🇳 Vietnam3%3%2%

Note: Percentages are rounded. Other countries include: Australia, South Korea, India, and the UK.

The EU also received single-percentage responses, its highest share coming from Myanmar (6%), Cambodia (5%), and Laos (4%).

Finally, the report contrasted China’s robust economic influence with concerns about its growing impact in the region. Respondents from Vietnam (88%), Myanmar (88%), and Thailand (80%) had the highest levels of concern, despite their countries’ strong trade ties with China.

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