China pushes for bigger role in Iraqi reconstruction

China will directly invest in infrastructure assets associated with Iraq’s oil industry as the partnership between the two countries evolves. Above, an oil field in Basra. (Reuters)
Updated 02 March 2018
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China pushes for bigger role in Iraqi reconstruction

LONDON: China is ramping up its role in Iraqi reconstruction, reflecting its growing reliance on oil from the war-ravaged country, but geopolitical factors are also at play, according to a new report.
A paper compiled by consultancy BMI Research, and released first to Arab News, said: “On the one hand, China will look to direct investment into infrastructure assets associated with Iraq’s oil industry, which has emerged as an increasingly important export partner over the past decade. On the other, China will aim to garner geopolitical influence by participating in broader reconstruction efforts in a country lying along a key artery of its Belt and Road initiative.”
The burgeoning Iraq-China partnership was said to be anchored by a dramatic increase in oil trade. Iraqi oil exports to China rose from zero in 2007 to 270 million barrels annually by 2017, second behind only Saudi Arabia in the Middle East and accounting for roughly 8.8 percent of total Chinese oil imports.
China’s growing investment role in Iraq’s oil sector was highlighted in January when Iraq disclosed that it intended to construct an oil refinery at the port of Fao on the Gulf with two Chinese companies. Iraq’s ministry of oil named the firms as Power China and Nerco Chinese. The ministry said that the refinery would have a capacity of 300,000 barrels per day. Similarly, Baghdad has awarded a contract to China-based Zhenhua Oil to further develop the East Baghdad oilfield.
“Given the growing importance of China as an oil export market vis-a-vis traditional export destinations like the United States, Baghdad will remain keen on deepening partnerships with Chinese companies as bilateral interests align,” BMI said.
The geopolitical research consultancy added that China would also gain indirect exposure to Iraq’s infrastructure sector by extending bilateral loans aimed at rebuilding Iraq’s economy.
In February, international donors pledged $30 billion to reconstruction efforts in Iraq, and while individual country contributions have not been divulged, reports indicated that China had been a key donor with billions committed by Chinese state-controlled enterprises over recent years.
BMI said China’s motives were also driven by its wider geopolitical ambitions. “Iraq lies along a key route of the China-backed Belt and Road initiative, which seeks to foster growing East-West overland trade by promoting greater logistical connectivity.”
BMI also highlighted the planned Basra-Aqaba oil pipeline, where the China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau is slated to play a construction role.
Yu Jie, head of China Foresight at the London School of Economics, told Arab News that “China is the world’s biggest importer of oil and the Middle East is a region for market access.” She flagged media reports that Chinese state-owned oil company Sinopec could acquire a shareholding in Saudi Aramco following the planned IPO later this year.
A recent report by the International Energy Agency said that the Middle East, which accounts for about $200 billion worth of trade, makes the region China’s fourth largest trading partner after the US, Japan and South Korea.
That said, getting the funds needed to rebuild Iraq is no easy task. At the close of an international donor conference in Kuwait last month, Iraq secured only about a third of the $100 billion that Iraq said the country needed, and much of the money pledged was in the form of investment loans (not direct aid).
Last month, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense released a video depicting Chinese-made CH-4B armed drones for use against terrorist targets. That appeared to make good on a statement following a visit by the Iraqi prime minister to Beijing two years ago when the Chinese pledged to expand its military and defense cooperation with Iraq. “We are ready to respond to support Iraq in these areas, as well as economic cooperation,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping at the time.
In an article last month on the website of China Global Television Network, professor Zhou Rong from the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, wrote that Chinese state-owned enterprises are the biggest oil investors in Iraq, “especially the modernization and development of Iraq’s oil infrastructure.”
About 60 percent of the electricity in the Iraqi capital Baghdad is produced by Chinese companies, he said.
“Sino-Iraqi relations benefit from the backdrop of the Belt and Road Initiative. Iraq thinks that the initiative is important for Iraq because it is historically located on the Al-Hareer Road,” Rong said.
Al-Hareer was a 12,000 kilometer land and sea road linking Asia, the Middle East and Europe hundreds of years ago that facilitated the exchange of goods and products such as silk, perfumes, incense, and spices, he said.


Singapore woes ring trade alarm bells

Singapore has long been viewed as a barometer of the global demand for goods and services. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2019
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Singapore woes ring trade alarm bells

  • Governments have slashed economic growth forecasts, and gauges in several countries measuring activity in the manufacturing and services sectors paint a bleak picture

SINGAPORE: A plunge in exports and the worst growth rates for a decade have fueled concerns about the outlook for Singapore’s economy, with analysts saying the figures offer a warning that Asia is heading for a slowdown as China-US tensions bite.
While it may be one of the smallest countries in the world, the export hub is highly sensitive to external shocks and has long been viewed as a barometer of the global demand for goods and services.
The affluent city-state is highly dependent on trade and has traditionally been one of the first places in Asia to be hit during global downturns — with ripples typically spreading out across the region. The latest signs are not good. In June, exports collapsed 17.3 percent from a year earlier, the fastest decline in more than six years, led by a fall in shipments of computer chips.
That followed a shock 3.4 percent quarter-on-quarter contraction in GDP in the second quarter. Year-on-year growth came in at just 0.1 percent, the slowest pace since 2009 during the global financial crisis.
“Singapore is the canary in the coal mine,” Song Seng Wun, a regional economist with CIMB Private Banking, told AFP. “And what it tells us is that it is a tough environment.”
To warn of danger, miners used to bring caged canaries underground with them as the birds would die in the presence of even a small amount of poisonous gas — signaling to workers that they should make a swift exit.

BACKGROUND

In June, exports in Singapore collapsed 17.3 percent from a year earlier, the fastest decline in more than six years, led by a fall in shipments of computer chips.

While steadily weakening growth in China is partly to blame for a slowdown in exports, analysts say the trade war between the US and China has dramatically worsened the situation.
While Singapore — a transit point for products heading to and from Western markets as well as the Asian base for manufacturers of some hi-tech goods — may be showing the strain most, negative data has emerged throughout the region.
Exports have been slipping across Asia. In India they plummeted 9.7 percent in June, in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, they dropped 8.9 percent in the same month while in South Korea they slipped 10.7 percent in May.
Governments have slashed economic growth forecasts, and gauges in several countries measuring activity in the manufacturing and services sectors paint a bleak picture.
Central banks are moving to spur domestic consumption, with Indonesia and South Korea cutting interest rates Thursday, the latest in Asia to lower borrowing costs.
Singapore’s central bank is seen as likely to ease monetary policy at an October meeting, and some economists are predicting the country could fall into recession next year.
“There are no winners in this trade war. While most of the attention has focused on the trade conflict between China and the US, the damage has not been confined to these two economies,” business consultancy IHS Markit said in a commentary.