How Will Countries Respond to China’s Shift From Global Exporter to Investor?

How Will Countries Respond to China’s Shift From Global Exporter to Investor?
Chinese President Xi Jinping at the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 17, 2017 (AP photo by Michel Euler).

That China is an export powerhouse is well established—“Made in China” products can be found in markets from Addis Ababa and Istanbul to Rome and New York. Despite a slowing economy, Chinese export of goods in 2015 totaled over $2.1 trillion, more than Italy’s GDP.

But less remarked upon is the rise of China’s newest export: capital. In fact, during his speech at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this week—the first by a Chinese president—President Xi Jinping not only vigorously defended free trade and globalization but also touted China’s efforts in facilitating global economic development. More than a formidable global trader, China is increasingly proving to be a competitive global investor and financier. While Chinese outbound investment has been rising for more than a decade now, this trend has lately captured heightened attention because the broad strategy underpinning Chinese overseas investment has changed.

Beijing’s initial “go out” strategy was formalized in 2000 as part of the 10th Five-Year Plan and was almost exclusively state-led. Such an effort shaped the prevailing view among Western economies that China was practicing a form of “neo-mercantilism” with its outbound investments. It went something like this: China would deploy its state-owned enterprises, or SOEs, as extensions of state power to provide lending and capital to developing but resource-rich countries. In return, Beijing would lock down energy supplies and commodities needed to support economic growth back home.

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