China: Building Roads to the Future

China is forging new global connections and expanding trade and market access in many ways. The country does seem to be opening its capital markets and working to become more transparent. We have seen the success of stock linkages between mainland China and Hong Kong, and recently, a new bond market connection has been announced. I think index-provider MSCI’s recent announcement to include large Chinese mainland shares in its Emerging Markets Index1 beginning next year represents an important vote of confidence and a recognition that China’s growth and capital market size must be taken into account by global investors.

China’s ancient “Silk Road” trade route is thought to be traced back to the Han Dynasty more than 2,000 years ago. The importance of silk trading to the region inspired the name of this network connecting land and sea trade routes linking China, Central Asia, the Arab world and stretching into the African and European continents.

In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jingping formally announced plans for a modern system of networks including railroads, ports, pipelines and even electronic information highways. The “One-Belt One-Road” (OBOR) initiative aims to transform economic and diplomatic interests in the region, taking shape in the form of investments in the various countries the program encompasses.

In 2014, China established a special, multi-billion-dollar fund to finance a variety of infrastructure projects along the OBOR routes, creating new economic corridors. The initiative is thought to be perhaps the largest of its type initiated by just one country. The OBOR currently spans more than 60 countries.

The sea-route part of the program includes ports along China’s coast, Hanoi in Vietnam, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Jakarta in Indonesia, Kolkata in India, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Nairobi in Kenya and Athens in Greece, where the Chinese have acquired the port of Piraeus.

One indication that the Chinese are putting words into action was demonstrated to me when I recently visited Sri Lanka. Right on the Colombo waterfront was a spanking new giant container port the Chinese had built, capable of handling the world’s largest container vessels.