Is China’s impossible miracle possible?

According to the old wisdom, 2017, the Year of the Rooster on the Chinese horoscope,  suggests we can expect to see miracles emerge from seemingly impossible situations.

" [BRI] can’t be implemented exclusively by Chinese companies or financed solely with Chinese money."
Jason Qi, Director in Client Insights and Solutions at ANZ

The year has – and will continue to be - filled with uncertainties and we may see more unexpected consequences emerge.  We’ve already seen Donald Trump move into the White House and Britain exit the European Union.

The next surprise could be progress from China on its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and that would be a little miracle.

The sheer scale of the initiative is enormous. Based on a World Bank estimate, the BRI could impact 60 per cent of the world’s population from more than 65 countries which generate about 40 per cent of global GDP. The initiative requires significant funding.

Analysis suggests an estimated BRI funding requirement of $U4 trillion to $US6 trillion over the next 15 years. 

The execution of the initiative is also facing challenges including significant geopolitical sensitivities and economic uncertainty. So it raises a legitimate question: how has the initiative progressed since it was announced?


Proposed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in November 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative was China’s grand strategy to promote regional economic development.

The BRI aims to promote the connectivity in Asia, Europe and Africa, establish and strengthen partnerships along the Belt and Road and create all-dimensional, multi-tiered and composite connectivity networks.

The initiative was commonly described as ‘One Belt, One Road’, based on ancient trade routes two thousand years ago when China’s Han Dynasty traded with the rest of Asia.

It was intuitive as it means exactly what it says it is – an initiative based on two core routes: the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

More recently, the Chinese official sources have adopted the wording ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ in all their English communications and signalled a more inclusive effort to promote policy coordination, connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people to people bond as the top five priorities.

The government no longer defines Belt and Road in a rigid way. Instead, it emphasises the initiative is open to all countries and organisations to participate. The project pipelines have reached beyond the two core routes and extended into six ‘economic corridors’ and sea ports such as Darwin in Australia.

Belt and Road Map (including Australia)

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom



Based on the Belt and Road three-year progress report published by Renmin University of China, solid progress has been made by the Chinese government.

By end 2016, China had signed free-trade agreements with 11 countries and bilateral investment agreements with 56 countries along the Belt and Road.

Facilitating more trade and investment is one of five key priorities. Based on MOFCOM’s statistics from 2014 to 2016, China recorded $US3.1 trillion worth of commodity trade along the Belt and Road, which account for 26 per cent of its total trade volume.

Over the same period, China had invested $US42 billion in total in these countries, accounting for 11 per cent of China’s overseas direct investment.

Chinese companies have also signed $US305 billion worth of international contracts in Belt and Road countries, accounting for 47 per cent of total international contracts signed during the same period.

These figures were enormous when put in an Australian context. Two-way trade between Australia and China for the same period was around $US350bn and net direct investment made by Chinese companies in Australia was around $US11 billion, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  


One key rationale for BRI is to boost trade. China is targeting annual trade with Belt and Road countries to reach $U2.5 trillion by 2025.

As a result, the early participants are large state owned engineering and construction companies winning major contracts to build ports, railways, tunnels, power plants and gas distribution networks.

If you want to look for the world’s tallest building, biggest airport, longest bridge and high speed railway systems, you will find them in China - and they have all been built by China International Contractors Association (CHINCA) members.

The association has 1,300 members, including names such as China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), China Rail Construction Corporation (CRCC), China Railway Group (CREC) and China Rail and Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC).

Not only do they all start with a ‘C’, but they are also all huge. Based on latest financial information, the aggregated revenue and total asset of these five companies are $US426 billion and $US598 billion respectively.

Put in an Australian context, those five mega contractors can generate a similar amount of revenue as Australia’s entire stock market and hold half as much assets on their balance sheet.


The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) approved $US509 million loans in power, transportation, and urban development projects along the Belt and Road in June 2016.

However, looking beyond the headlines, it was China’s policy banks providing active support to the BRI.

Based on the three-year progress report, China Development Bank’s Belt and Road project pool involves more than 900 projects.

The Export-Import Bank of China also recently signed over 500 projects and provided more than $US80 billion loan in total last year with 49 countries.

By June 2016, China Export & Credit Insurance Corporation had supported export, domestic trade and investment with a total value of U$2.3 trillion.

As of March 2016, nine Chinese commercial banks had set up 56 branches in 24 Belt and Road countries. In addition, 56 commercial banks from 20 Belt and Road countries have set up 7 subsidiaries, 18 branches and 42 representative offices in China.


Other than joining the AIIB as a founding member, Australia’s engagement with BRI has been lukewarm. Some put it in the too-hard basket due to uncertainty around sovereign risk, project economics and execution risk.

Others may critique the real agenda behind the BRI is China’s infrastructure diplomacy. However those engaged surprisingly found their interests have been welcomed, with letters sent to each participant.

Although the Chinese contractors and banks have made solid progress, this ambitious initiative can’t be implemented exclusively by Chinese companies or financed solely with Chinese money.

China will need international companies to participate to bring their special expertise and capital to the table.

Australian companies should engage - or risk falling behind companies from Japan, Korea and Europe. If Australia sits on its hands, it may well miss a golden opportunity to benefit from another miracle in the year of the rooster.

Jason Qi is a director in Client Insights and Solutions at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

23 Jan 2017

One belt, one road and one massive China opportunity

Richard Holdcroft | Freelance journalist

China’s Belt and Road Initiative, sometimes referred to as the 21st-century Marshall Plan, is far grander in its scope and ambition than the post-World War II US aid initiative.

11 Mar 2016

Why business should get behind a one-belt, one-road China

Mukund Narayanamurti | CEO, Asialink Business

China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) is an ambitious strategic, political and economic initiative with the potential to create a new model of growth from Asia to the Middle East and Europe. Combined, the land and maritime belt and road will involve more than 65 countries, 60 per cent of the world's population and nearly half of global GDP.