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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ranked: America’s Most Searched and Visited News Sites by State
American states have some key differences for their favorite news sites. Here’s how they rank by monthly visitors and state popularity.
Ranked: America’s Most Searched News Sites by State
America is known to have significant distinctions at the state-by-state level, and data suggests this trend extends to popular news sources. To learn more, this infographic from SEMRush ranks U.S. news websites by search volume and popularity across U.S. states.
Here’s how the top 15 news sites compare when ranked by monthly visitors, as well as the number of states the news source is most searched for in:
|News Site||Monthly Visitors||State Search Popularity||Top Metro Area|
|1||Yahoo! News||175 million||12||Eureka, California (CA)|
|2||Google News||150 million||3||Eureka, California (CA)|
|3||Huff Post||110 million||1||Eureka, California (CA)|
|4||CNN||95 million||7||Bend, Oregon (OR)|
|5||The New York Times||70 million||1||Charlottesville, Virginia (VA)|
|6||Fox News||65 million||11||Glendive, Montana (MT)|
|7||NBC News||63 million||3||Charlottesville, Virginia (VA)|
|8||MailOnline||53 million||1||West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce, Florida (FL)|
|9||The Washington Post||47 million||1||Washington, DC and Hagerstown, Maryland (MD)|
|10||The Guardian||42 million||1||Juneau, Alaska (AK)|
|11||The Wall Street Journal||40 million||1||Charlottesville, Virginia (VA)|
|12||ABC News||36 million||5||Columbia and Jefferson City, Missouri (MO)|
|13||BBC News||35 million||2||Eureka, California (CA)|
|14||USA Today||34 million||10||Wausau and Rhinelander, Wisconsin (WI)|
|15||Los Angeles Times||32 million||1||Palm Springs, California (CA)|
Political affiliation plays a large role in determining each state’s favored news sites. Blue states lean towards Google News and CNN, while red states overwhelmingly choose Fox News.
The Most Popular News Sites
Yahoo News is the most popular news website in America, bringing in a massive 175 million monthly visitors. In addition, they’re the most searched for news site in 12 states—the highest of any website. The company’s history has been a roller coaster ride and at different times Yahoo intended to acquire Google and Facebook. Both companies went on to be worth over $1 trillion each, while Yahoo shrank some 90% from when it was once worth $125 billion.
The New York Times has 60 million monthly visitors, but in recent years, has pivoted towards the coveted and trending paid subscription model. This decision is paying off well, as the site now has 6.1 million paid subscribers—more than any of its competitors. Consequently, the New York Times’ share price hit a record high in December 2020.
HuffPost, and their audience of 110 million, were bought by BuzzFeed from Verizon in November of 2020. The two organizations have some history together, as BuzzFeed co-founder Jonah Peretti was also one of the early founders of HuffPost.
CNN is seeing a fall in ratings ever since Donald Trump left office. By some measures has witnessed a 36% decline in primetime viewers in the new year.
Google News experiences 125 million visitors a month, ranking second overall. That said, they stand tall relative to their competitors by overall visits to their main site. Here, Google hits 92.5 billion monthly visits, while Yahoo experiences a more modest 3.8 billion. Unlike legacy media news companies, Google has managed to increase their market share of U.S. advertising revenues, due to more ads going digital.
The Modern News Landscape
Overall, the modern news industry has been a tough landscape to operate in. Here are some of the reasons why:
First, the internet has removed barriers to where people obtain information, and revenue streams have been disrupted in the process. The advertising business model of news organizations is cutthroat to compete in, and there has been plenty of consolidation and layoffs.
Lastly, trust in traditional news and media organizations has been declining amongst Americans, from nearly 60% to 46% since 2019.
|Year||A lot of Trust (%)||Some Trust (%)||Very Little/ No Trust (%)|
To add to this, on a global basis, the U.S. ranks well below most major countries based on trust in news media.
Some organizations like The Washington Post and The New York Times have opted out of the advertising model, moving towards the direction of premium subscriptions. But only 20% of the Americans pay for their news, which could lead to stiff competition down the road.
The Future Of News
There are serious concerns about the future of news in the era of spreading misinformation. Up to 43% of Americans say the media are doing a very “poor/poor job” in supporting democracy. But despite this waning trust, 84% of Americans view news media as “critical” or “very important”.
What will the future of media look like throughout the 21st century and how will this impact the most popular news sites of today?
Mapped: The Top Trading Partner of Every U.S. State
At the national level, Canada and China are top U.S. trading partners. While this generally extends to the state level, there are some surprises too.
The Top Trading Partner of Every U.S. State
The U.S. is highly dependent—perhaps unsurprisingly—on Canada and Mexico for trade. The country’s top trading partner is Mexico, making up 14.8% of total trade.
However, the country’s neighbors to the north and south are not the only trade partners that U.S. states rely heavily upon. This map from HowMuch.net uses flags to show which country each U.S. state is importing the most from. Below, there is an additional graphic showing where each state is exporting the highest amount of goods and services to.
Who are the States Importing From?
The U.S. has a few natural and obvious trading partners, whether due to geographical closeness or strong economic ties.
The obvious candidates for top trading partners have already been mentioned, Canada and Mexico—and these two do show up at the state level as well. For example, Michigan gets 40.9% of its imports from Mexico, and Montana receives a whopping 87% of its imports from Canada.
Some other interesting trade partnerships stand out, like the Carolinas and Germany. Trade ties between Hawaii and Japan also make sense for historic reasons.
|State||Top Country||Total State Import (Millions USD)||Share of Total State Imports|
|Alaska||🇰🇷 South Korea||$836||35.0%|
|District of Columbia||🇨🇦 Canada||$74||13.7%|
|New Hampshire||🇨🇦 Canada||$1,394||20.1%|
|New Jersey||🇨🇳 China||$14,302||12.4%|
|New Mexico||🇨🇳 China||$1,493||32.6%|
|New York||🇨🇭 Switzerland||$33,126||21.5%|
|North Carolina||🇩🇪 Germany||$9,208||15.1%|
|North Dakota||🇨🇦 Canada||$1,781||62.3%|
|Puerto Rico||🇮🇪 Ireland||$9,062||42.7%|
|Rhode Island||🇩🇪 Germany||$1,525||17.3%|
|South Carolina||🇩🇪 Germany||$6,220||15.5%|
|South Dakota||🇨🇦 Canada||$428||33.9%|
|Virgin Islands||🇵🇹 Portugal||$174||27.7%|
|West Virginia||🇨🇦 Canada||$1,025||35.2%|
However, one country in particular stands out on this map—China.
While the USMCA trade agreement has created an easy gateway for necessary goods and services to flow across North America, no country—not even the U.S.—can escape the need for mass imports from the world’s top exporter.
China and the U.S. have an imbalanced trade relationship, with China buying much fewer goods from the U.S. than the U.S. buys from them. In fact, China’s monthly trade surplus with the country sat at $31.8 billion as of May 2021.
Who are the States Exporting to?
After looking at the top import partners by state, let’s dive in to where the U.S. states are exporting the most.
One thing that is noticeable is that China shows up much less on this map, further exemplifying the trade imbalance. In other words, while many states’ top import partner is China, they are not reciprocating as the country’s top export partner.
The only states that export their largest shares to China are:
- Oregon – 38.1%
- Alaska – 25.5%
- Washington – 22.1%
- Alabama – 18.1%
- Louisiana – 18.1%
The majority are exporting to their North American neighbors. For example, North Dakota sends 84.6% of its exports just across the northern border.
|State||Top Country||Total State Export (Millions USD)||Share of total State Exports|
|New Hampshire||🇩🇪 Germany||$751||13.8%|
|New Jersey||🇨🇦 Canada||$7,229||19.0%|
|New Mexico||🇲🇽 Mexico||$2,197||59.5%|
|New York||🇨🇦 Canada||$13,773||22.3%|
|North Carolina||🇨🇦 Canada||$5,881||20.7%|
|North Dakota||🇨🇦 Canada||$4,388||84.6%|
|Puerto Rico||🇳🇱 Netherlands||$2,889||17.2%|
|Rhode Island||🇨🇦 Canada||$410||17.1%|
|South Carolina||🇩🇪 Germany||$4,082||13.5%|
|South Dakota||🇨🇦 Canada||$524||38.0%|
|Utah||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$8,906||50.3%|
|Virgin Islands||🇳🇱 Netherlands||$90||15.2%|
|West Virginia||🇨🇦 Canada||$1,283||28.1%|
Trade Going Forward
The trade war that started during the tenure of former U.S. president Donald Trump is still ongoing and tariffs set by the U.S. are not expected to be lifted by president Joe Biden, as tensions have expanded beyond just trade issues.
These tariffs, however, have not helped to rectify the significant trade imbalance between the two countries. The states are still extremely reliant on imports from China, and it is not a reciprocal relationship.
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