Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a New Year’s Day address December 31 that 2018 would be a big deal for ever-expanding economic ties with other countries. China since 2013 has been pushing its $900 billion “Belt and Road” initiative to help develop transport infrastructure in 65 countries as a way of improving trade relations with China despite the inevitable backlash over debt, labor or resource control.
Signed contracts between China and those countries already increased by 13.1% last year through November compared to 2016, French investment bank Natixis says. China this year will “actively push for the Belt and Road Initiative,” Xi said as quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency. “The Chinese people are ready to chart out a more prosperous, peaceful future for humanity, with people from other countries,” he said.
Here are three countries likely to jump at China’s economic offerings this year and one that might lose out:
This small, impoverished Southeast Asian country with a historic political soft spot for Beijing will watch Chinese economic, military and strategic influence grow this year, anticipates Mohan Malik, professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu.
China will help Cambodia hold 2018 elections expected to cost $50 million after the United States and European Union withdrew funding over a crackdown against an opposition party.
A deal reached a decade ago gave the Chinese developer Union Development Group a $3.8 million “massive land concession” on a 99-year lease to control about 20% of the Cambodian coastline, Malik says. That tie-up will keep tightening this year. In November, Xi called for working more closely with Cambodia through the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation, a three-year-old mechanism including Thailand and pushed by China to give it more control of water resources.
This oil-rich central Asian country that borders China is Eurasia’s most enthusiastic about the Belt-and-Road, according to Forbes’ contributor Wade Shepard. China, perhaps keen to get some of its neighbor’s fuel, has helped already develop a dry port, railways and a pipeline. This year the nation of 18 million people should start seeing a lot of freight traffic. Three trains from China have set out for Iran so far this month along the new lines. Officials from the two sides intend to simplify traffic on 33 railway lines from China through Kazakhstan into Europe, this media report.
Kazakhstan stands out so much on the Chinese economic development road that Japan, a rival to China’s expansion in Asia, is designing its own ways to help the Central Asian state. Normally, without China, “Central Asian republics like Kazakhstan get so little attention otherwise,” says Sean King, vice president of the Park Strategies consultancy in New York.
3. Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka began last month operations at its Hambantota Port through a joint venture with China Merchant Ports Holdings, which has a 99-year lease agreement. The company will co-manage port operations with the Sri Lanka Ports Authority. This deal angered antigovernment critics in Sri Lanka, where some fear a strategic sellout to Beijing, but it lets the smaller country start to repay China debts of $8 billion. Beijing may regard the port as key to its goal of building trade routes along the Eurasian southern coasts.
This Southeast Asian nation has tried to diversify its economy away from China since the end of military rule in 2012. Myanmar doesn’t want China to control national resources and some believe it did that in the past. So the developing country of 53 million people faces a China crisis this year.
A Chinese business consortium raised its stake in Myanmar’s Indian Ocean port of Kyaukpyu to 70% in November, giving China links to a pipeline that could deliver oil, per media reports. Myanmar now faces “intense pressure” to raise China’s stake as high as 85% and lease it for 99 years, Malik says. Without that agreement, he adds, Myanmar is required to pay a penalty to China for reneging since 2011 on a $3 billion deal to let a Chinese enterprise build the Myitsone hydropower dam. The Chinese side intended to operate the dam for 50 years.