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.
Mapped: The Countries With the Most Military Spending
Global military spending surpassed $1.9 trillion in 2019, but nearly 75% of this total can be traced to just 10 countries.
Mapped: The Countries With the Most Military Spending
Whether it’s fight or flight, there’s a natural tendency of humans to want to protect themselves.
In this day and age, this base instinct takes the form of a nation’s expenditures on armies and armaments, towards an end goal of global security and peacekeeping.
This graphic from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) delves into the top military spenders as of 2019.
Top 10 Biggest Military Spenders
Let’s first take a look at the overall growth trends. The world’s military spending grew by 3.6% year-over-year (YoY)—currently the highest rate this decade—to surpass $1.9 trillion in 2019.
While just 10 countries are responsible for nearly 75% of this amount, the U.S. alone made up the lion’s share with 38% of the global total. In fact, its YoY rise in spending alone of $49.2 billion rivals Germany’s entire spending for the same year.
Naturally, many questions rise about where this money goes, including the inevitable surplus of military equipment, from night vision goggles to armored vehicles, that trickles down to law enforcement around the nation.
Here’s how world’s top 10 military spenders compare against each other:
|Country||Military Spending ('19)||YoY % change||Military Spending as % of GDP ('19)|
|Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦||$61.2B||-16.0%||8.0%|
|South Korea 🇰🇷||$43.9B||+7.5%||2.7%|
China and India, currently embroiled in a border dispute, have upped the ante for military spending in Asia. India is also involved in clashes with its neighbor Pakistan for territorial claim over Kashmir—one of the most contested borders in the world.
India’s tensions and rivalry with both Pakistan and China are among the major drivers for its increased military spending.
—Siemon T. Wezeman, SIPRI Senior Researcher
Germany leads among the top spenders in terms of highest YoY military spending increases. According to SIPRI, this is a preemptive measure in the face of perceived growing Russian threats.
These concerns may not be unfounded, considering that Russia comes in fourth for defense expenditures on the global stage—and budgets more towards military spending than any country in Europe, at 3.9% of its total GDP.
Military Spending as a Share of GDP
Looking more closely at the numbers, it’s clear that some nations place a higher value on defense than others. A country’s military expenses as a share of GDP is the most straightforward expression of this.
How do the biggest spenders change when this measure is taken into consideration?
Eight of the 15 countries with the highest military spending as a percentage of GDP are concentrated in the Middle East, with an average allocation of 4.5% of a nation’s GDP.
It’s worth noting that data is missing for various countries in the Middle East, such as Yemen, which has been mired in a civil war since 2011. While SIPRI estimates that combined military spending in the region fell by 7.5% in 2019, these significant data gaps mean that such estimates may not in fact line up with the reality.
Explore the full data set of all available countries below.
|Country||2019 Spending, US$B||2019 Share of GDP|
|Republic of Congo||$0.30||2.7%|
|Trinidad & Tobago||$0.17||0.7%|
|Papua New Guinea||$0.08||0.4%|
|Central African Republic||$0.03||1.5%|
Basic Income Experiments Around the World
Amid the pandemic, the idea of Universal Basic Income has been gaining steam with policymakers. Where has it been tried, and has it worked?
Basic Income Experiments Around the World
What if everyone received monthly payments to make life easier and encourage greater economic activity? That’s the exact premise behind Universal Basic Income (UBI).
The idea of UBI as a means to both combat poverty and improve economic prospects has been around for decades. With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc on economies worldwide, momentum behind the idea has seen a resurgence among certain groups.
Of course, the money to fund basic income programs has to come from somewhere. UBI relies heavily on government budgets or direct funding to cover the regular payments.
As policymakers examine this trade-off between government spending and the potential benefits, there is a growing pool of data to draw inferences from. In fact, basic income has been piloted and experimented on all around the world—but with a mixed bag of results.
What Makes Basic Income Universal?
UBI operates by giving people the means to meet basic necessities with a regular stipend. In theory, this leaves them free to spend their money and resources on economic goods, or searching for better employment options.
Before examining the programs, it’s important to make a distinction between basic income and universal basic income.
With these parameters in mind, and thanks to data from the Stanford Basic Income Lab, we’ve mapped 48 basic income programs that demonstrate multiple features of UBI and are regularly cited in basic income policy.
Some mapped programs are past experiments used to evaluate basic income. Others are ongoing or new pilots, including recently launched programs in Germany and Spain.
Recently, Canada joined the list as countries considering UBI as a top policy priority in a post-COVID world. But as past experiments show, ideas around basic income can be implemented in many different ways.
Basic Income Programs Took Many Forms
Basic income pilots have seen many iterations across the globe. Many paid out in U.S. dollars, while others chose to stick with local currencies (marked by an asterisk for estimated USD value).
|Program||Location||Recipients||Payment Frequency||Amount ($US/yr)||Dates|
|Abundant Birth Project||San Francisco, U.S.||100||Monthly||$12,000-$18,000||TBD|
|Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend||Alaska, U.S.||667,047||Annually||$1,000-$2,000||1982-Present|
|Baby's First Years||New York, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Baby's First Years||New Orleans, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Baby's First Years||Omaha, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Baby's First Years||Twin Cities, U.S.||1,000||Monthly||$240-$3,996||2017-2022|
|Basic Income for Farmers||Gyeonggi Province, South Korea||430,000||Annually||$509*||TBD|
|Basic Income Grant (BIG) Pilot||Omitara, Namibia||930||Monthly||$163*||2008-2009|
|Basic Income Project||Not Disclosed||3,000||Monthly||$600-$12,000||2019-Present|
|Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Casino Revenue Fund||Jackson County and area, NC, U.S.||15,414||Biannually||$7,000-$12,000||1996-Present|
|Eight Pilot Project||Busibi, Uganda||150||Monthly||$110-$219*||2017-2019|
|Evaluation of the Citizens' Basic Income Program||Maricá, Brazil||42,000||Monthly||$360*||2019-Present|
|Finland Basic Income Experiment||Finland||2,000||Monthly||$7,793*||2017-2018|
|Gary Income Maintenance Experiments||Gary, U.S.||1,782||Monthly||$3,300-$4,300||1971-1974|
|Give Directly||Western Kenya||20,847||Monthly or Lump Sum||$274||2017-2030|
|Give Directly||Saiya County, Kenya||10,500||Lump Sum||$333||2014-2017|
|Give Directly||Rarieda District, Kenya||503||Monthly or Lump Sum||$405-$1,525||2011-2013|
|Human Development Fund||Mongolia||2,700,000||Monthly||$187||2010-2012|
|Ingreso Mínimo Vital||Spain||850,000||Monthly||$6,535-$14,358*||2020-Present|
|Iran Cash Transfer Programme||Iran||75,000,000||Monthly||$48||2010-Present|
|Madhya Pradesh Unconditional Cash Transfers Project||Madhya Pradesh, India||5,547||Monthly||$26-$77*||2011-2012|
|Magnolia Mother's Trust||Jackson, MS, U.S.||80||Monthly||$12,000||2019-Present|
|Manitoba Basic Annual Income Experiment||Winnipeg, Canada||1,677||Monthly||$3,842-$5,864*||1975-1978|
|Manitoba Basic Annual Income Experiment||Dauphin, Canada||586||Monthly||$3,842-$5,864*||1975-1978|
|My Basic Income||Germany||120||Monthly||$17,160*||2020-2023|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Jersey City, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Paterson, NJ, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Passaic, NJ, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Trenton, NJ, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiment||Scranton, PA, U.S.||1,357||Biweekly||Varied||1968-1972|
|Ontario Basic Income Pilot||Hamilton and area, Canada||2,748||Monthly||$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)||2017-2018|
|Ontario Basic Income Pilot||Thunder Bay and area, Canada||1,908||Monthly||$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)||2017-2018|
|Ontario Basic Income Pilot||Lindsay, Canada||1,844||Monthly||$13,112-$18,930* (-50% income)||2017-2018|
|Preserving Our Diversity||Santa Monica, U.S.||250||Monthly||$7,836-$8,964||2017-Present|
|Quatinga Velho||Quatinga, Mogi das Cruces, Brazil||67||Monthly||$197*||2008-2014|
|Rural Income Maintenance Experiment||Duplin County, NC, U.S.||810||Monthly||Varied (NIT)||1970-1972|
|Rural Income Maintenance Experiment||Iowa, U.S.||810||Monthly||Varied (NIT)||1970-1972|
|Scheme $6,000||Hong Kong, China||4,000,000||Annually||$771*||2011-2012|
|Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment||Seattle, U.S.||2,042||Monthly||$3,800-$5,600||1971-1982|
|Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment||Denver, U.S.||2,758||Monthly||$3,800-$5,600||1971-1982|
|Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration||Stockton, U.S.||125||Monthly||$6,000||2019-Present|
|Transition-Age Youth Basic Income Pilot Program||Santa Clara, CA, U.S.||72||Monthly||$12,000||2020-2021|
|Wealth Partaking Scheme||Macau, China||700,600||Annually||$750-$1,150||2008-Present|
|Youth Basic Income Program||Gyeonggi Province, South Korea||125,000||Quarterly||$848*||2018-Present|
|Citizen's Basic Income Pilot||Scotland||TBD||Monthly||TBD||TBD|
|People's Prosperity Guaranteed Income Demonstration Pilot||St. Paul, U.S.||150||Monthly||$6,000||2020-2022|
Many of the programs meet the classical requirements of UBI. Of the 48 basic income programs tallied above, 75% paid out monthly, and 60% were paid out to individuals.
However, for various reasons, not all of these programs follow UBI requirements. For example, 38% of the basic income programs were paid out to households instead of individuals, and many programs have paid out in lump sums or over varying time frames.
Interestingly, the need for better understanding of basic income has resulted in many divergences between programs. Some programs were only targeted at specific groups like South Korea’s Basic Income for Farmers program, while others like the Baby’s First Years program in the U.S. have been experimenting with different dollar amounts in order to evaluate efficiency.
Other experiments based payments made off of the total income of recipients. For example, in the U.S., the Rural Income and New Jersey Income Maintenance Experiments paid out using a negative income tax (return) on earnings, while recipients of Canada’s Ontario Basic Income Pilot received fixed amounts minus 50% of their earned income.
Varying Programs with Varied Results
So is basic income the real deal or a pipe dream? The results are still unclear.
Some, like the initial pilots for Uganda’s Eight program, were found to result in significant multipliers on economic activity and well-being. Other programs, however, returned mixed results that made further experimentation difficult. Finland’s highly-touted pilot program decreased stress levels of recipients across the board, but didn’t positively impact work activity.
The biggest difficulty has been in keeping programs going and securing funding. Ontario’s three-year projects were prematurely cancelled in 2018 before they could be completed and assessed, and the next stages of Finland’s program are in limbo.
Likewise in the U.S., start-up incubator Y Combinator has been planning a $60M basic income study program, but can’t proceed until funding is secured.
A Post-COVID Future for UBI?
In light of COVID-19, basic income has once again taken center stage.
Many countries have already implemented payment schemes or boosted unemployment benefits in reaction to the pandemic. Others like Spain have used that momentum to launch fully-fledged basic income pilots.
It’s still too early to tell if UBI will live up to expectations or if the idea will fizzle out, but as new experiments and policy programs take shape, a growing amount of data will become available for policymakers to evaluate.
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