China’s Economic Empire
June 05, 2013and
埃里韋托·阿勞霍, 胡安·巴勃羅·卡德納爾 2013年06月05日
香港——一方面是強盛且不斷崛起的中國，另一方面是經濟停 滯的歐美，這個組合正讓西方日益感到不適。儘管中國並沒有用軍事手段橫掃世界，但中國似乎正通過商業途徑，一步一步地將世界收入囊中。僅在過去一周里，中 國公司和投資者就尋求收購兩大標誌性的西方公司：美國豬肉生產商史密斯菲爾德公司(Smithfield Foods)和法國旅遊度假公司地中海俱樂部(Club Med)。
通過收購企業、開採自然資源、進行基礎設施建設和在世界各 地放貸，中國正在謀求一種柔性但不可阻擋的經濟佔領方式。近乎無限的金融資源，使中國在發達世界和發展中世界都成為一支改變遊戲規則的力量，有可能消除西 方公司的競爭優勢，減少歐洲和美國的工作崗位，甚至削弱外界對中國人權侵犯行為的批評聲音。
最終，藉助十多億中國儲戶的存款，「中國公司」有能力在世 界各地收購戰略資產。這種情況之所以可能出現，是因為這些存款在金融上受到抑制——儲戶的回報率為負值，因為利率低於通脹，同時嚴格的資本管制使儲戶不能 把資金投向海外更有利可圖的投資。其結果是，中國政府如今控制着從土庫曼斯坦到中國以及從南蘇丹到紅海的油氣管道。
一條穿越緬甸、連通印度洋與中國昆明的管道，按計劃很快就 能完工，而另一條從西伯利亞到中國北方的管道已經建成。中國還在基礎設施建設方面大舉投資，承接大型水電工程，如在蘇丹境內的尼羅河上修建麥洛維大壩 (Merowe Dam)——這是中國在非洲最大的工程項目——以及厄瓜多爾耗資23億美元的科卡科多辛克雷大壩(Coca Codo Sinclair)。據非營利環保組織國際河流(International Rivers)稱，中國目前在世界各地參與修建的其它大壩多達200餘座。
中國已成為全球最大出口國，並在2012年超越美國，成為 全球最大貿易國。渴求鐵礦石、大豆和銅礦等資源的中國，在短短几年內成為了澳大利亞、巴西和智利等國的主要貿易夥伴。更低的關稅和中國經濟繁榮，是這種迅 猛增長的根本原因。通過主要購買自然資源和糧食，中國意在保障國內兩大經濟引擎（城鎮化和出口行業）的資源供應鏈。
在歐洲和北美，中國登上舞台是相對較新的現象，但數據清楚 顯示出增長趨勢：中國對歐盟的年度投資總額已從2008年前的不到10億美元，增至過去兩年的逾100億美元。根據經濟研究公司榮鼎諮詢(Rhodium Group)的數據，中國在美國的投資已從2008年的不到10億美元，大幅增至2012年創紀錄的67億美元。去年，33%的中國對外直接投資流向了歐 洲。
這一趨勢在未來只會進一步強化，因為中國對外直接投資將在 未來幾年一路飆高。據榮鼎諮詢預測，到2020年中國對外直接投資將高達1萬億至2萬億美元。這意味着，在國內享有壟斷地位的國有企業，如今可以投入雄心 勃勃的國際擴張，和全球企業巨擘展開競爭。這種不公平現象在鋼鐵和太陽能板行業最為明顯；在這兩個行業，中國在短短几年裡就從一個凈進口國轉變為全球最大 生產國和出口國。遠低於市場價格的中國產品充斥市場，摧毀了西方和其他地方的相關產業和就業。
國有的中國遠洋運輸集團(Cosco)現在管理着希臘最大 港口比雷埃夫斯港（位於雅典附近）的主要貨運碼頭；中遠獲得了長達35年的特許經營權。中國的主權財富基金——中投公司在2012年收購倫敦希斯羅機場 10%的股份和英國公共事業公司泰晤士水務(Thames Water)近9%的股份。國有企業三峽集團和國家電網是葡萄牙發電行業的主要外國投資者，中投還收購了法國歐洲通訊衛星公司(Eutelsat Communications)7%的股份。
唯一的例外是美國。美國似乎想通過推動跨太平洋戰略經濟夥 伴關係協定（Trans-Pacific Partnership，簡稱TPP）來應對這一問題。這是一個區域性的貿易俱樂部，被北京及其他地方的批評者視為美國主導的旨在遏制中國的政策。該俱樂 部據信只對符合美國在自由競爭、勞動和環境標準、以及知識產權方面的高要求的國家開放。由於中國達不到這些標準，中國將不得不推行改革，否則將面臨地區孤 立。此外，美國還為難中國電信設備製造巨擘華為集團，拒絕批准其從美國各大電信運營商承接業務。這並不只是出於國家安全的考慮，也是在向北京發出明確信 息：美國政府不惜把中國最知名最成功的公司之一擋在門外。
在很大程度上受丹麥控制的疆域廣袤且資源豐富的格陵蘭島， 是一個頗能說明問題的案例。去年，格陵蘭島通過法律，允許薪資水平低於當地法定最低工資（這裡的法定最低工資躋身於世界最高水平之列）的外國工人入境。中 國代表此前明確表示，中國的國有銀行和國企有意投資於高風險、高成本的採礦項目，開發格陵蘭島的龐大礦產資源，但前提是格陵蘭島修訂當地法規，允許數以千 計低薪的中國工人進入該島。
北極地區沒有太多選擇。鑒於北極地區的商業風險較大，而且 這片面積大於墨西哥、但沒有一條高速公路的地區需要的投資規模較大，沒有其他國家能夠成為格陵蘭島在未來發展方面的戰略夥伴。一家美國石油公司無法單獨完 成這項任務。而中國的國家資本主義制度卻能讓多家國企開展合作，比如讓中國石油天然氣集團公司開採石油，同時讓中國鐵路修建基礎設施。
格陵蘭的領導人接受了中國的條件，因為他們很可能相信：沒 有中國方面的參與，這些成本高昂的項目或許永遠都不會推進；只有中國具備開展這些項目所需的資金、需求、經驗和政治意志。而且，格陵蘭島沒有足夠的技術工 人參與這些項目，因此格陵蘭政府破例允許中國勞工掙得低於最低工資標準的薪資，盤算着新的基礎設施和開採權使用費將造福於當地居民。
就連加拿大這樣的進步堡壘也出現了此類情況。奧巴馬總統迄 今拒絕批准Keystone輸油管道項目，促使斯蒂芬·哈珀(Stephen Harper)總理的保守黨政府轉向中國，以確保加拿大原油有出口市場。以卡爾加里為大本營的石油工業，遊說哈珀政府採取新的多元化戰略，包括建設通往不 列顛哥倫比亞省西部海岸的輸油管道，儘管環保組織、原住民社區和公眾強烈反對這個有爭議的項目。與此同時，加拿大還與中國簽訂了《關於促進和相互保護投資 的協定》(Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement)，為中國企業提供慷慨的投資保護。
更緊密的經貿往來產生了一些政治副作用。哈珀政府如今似乎 在批評中國人權記錄方面謹慎得多。鑒於加拿大直到不久以前一直是最強烈批評中國對待異見人士方式的國家之一，這不僅是一個180度的大轉彎，還清楚地顯 示，中國的經濟影響力能夠怎樣排擠政治議程，即便在西方也是如此。
中國還已超越美國，成為德國最大的投資者（按交易數量計 算）。中國企業正在物色像普茨邁斯特這樣的公司——擁有技術優勢，已成為縫隙市場中的世界領先者。中國企業還通過這些收購，獲取了有關品牌運作、營銷、分 銷及客戶關係的西方訣竅。其他公司則抱有更加機會主義的眼光。面對經濟衰退，沃爾沃等苦苦掙扎的歐洲公司迫不及待地歡迎中國夥伴，後者準備注資或者買斷全 部股份。
以美元計算，中國在世界各地放貸的手筆甚至比直接對外投資 更大，包括近年為委內瑞拉提供的400億美元貸款，以及為土庫曼斯坦提供的逾80億美元貸款。中國的政策銀行（國家開發銀行和中國進出口銀行）是支持「走 出去」戰略的關鍵機構，向外國提供巨額貸款，讓其購買中國商品，為中國承建的基礎設施項目提供資金，以及啟動採掘及其他產業的項目。
西方在為一些國家提供援助時，將援助與人權及優良商業實踐 掛鈎，中國的貸款在這些國家起到最明顯的作用。中國的放貸對安哥拉這樣的國家至關重要，因為這些國家面臨被西方債權人、世界銀行(World Bank)及國際貨幣基金組織(International Monetary Fund)切斷資金的威脅。厄瓜多爾、委內瑞拉、土庫曼斯坦、蘇丹和伊朗都曾面臨此類困難，而中國為他們提供了不附帶政治或道德條件的貸款。中國很少透露 這些貸款的統計數字，但英國《金融時報》(The Financial Times)的一項研究顯示，2009至2010年，中國是世界最大的放貸者，放貸總額超過世界銀行，達到1100億美元。
HONG KONG — THE combination of a strong, rising China and economic stagnation in Europe and America is making the West increasingly uncomfortable. While China is not taking over the world militarily, it seems to be steadily taking it over commercially. In just the past week, Chinese companies and investors have sought to buy two iconic Western companies, Smithfield Foods, the American pork producer, and Club Med, the French resort company.
Europeans and Americans tend to fret over Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, its territorial disputes with Japan, and cyberattacks on Western firms, but all of this is much less important than a phenomenon that is less visible but more disturbing: the aggressive worldwide push of Chinese state capitalism.
By buying companies, exploiting natural resources, building infrastructure and giving loans all over the world, China is pursuing a soft but unstoppable form of economic domination. Beijing’s essentially unlimited financial resources allow the country to be a game-changing force in both the developed and developing world, one that threatens to obliterate the competitive edge of Western firms, kill jobs in Europe and America and blunt criticism of human rights abuses in China.
Ultimately, thanks to the deposits of over a billion Chinese savers, China Inc. has been able to acquire strategic assets worldwide. This is possible because those deposits are financially repressed — savers receive negative returns because of interest rates below the inflation rate and strict capital controls that prevent savers from investing their money in more profitable investments abroad. Consequently, the Chinese government now controls oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan to China and from South Sudan to the Red Sea.
Another pipeline, from the Indian Ocean to the Chinese city of Kunming, running through Myanmar, is scheduled to be completed soon, and yet another, from Siberia to northern China, has already been built. China has also invested heavily in building infrastructure, undertaking huge hydroelectric projects like the Merowe Dam on the Nile in Sudan — the biggest Chinese engineering project in Africa — and Ecuador’s $2.3 billion Coca Codo Sinclair Dam. And China is currently involved in the building of more than 200 other dams across the planet, according to International Rivers, a nonprofit environmental organization.
China has become the world’s leading exporter; it also surpassed the United States as the world’s biggest trading nation in 2012. In the span of just a few years, China has become the leading trading partner of countries like Australia, Brazil and Chile as it seeks resources like iron ore, soybeans and copper. Lower tariffs and China’s booming economy explain this exponential growth. By buying mainly natural resources and food, China is ensuring that two of the country’s economic engines — urbanization and the export sector — are securely supplied with the needed resources.
In Europe and North America, China’s arrival on the scene has been more recent but the figures clearly show a growing trend: annual investment from China to the European Union grew from less than $1 billion annually before 2008 to more than $10 billion in the past two years. And in the United States, investment surged from less than $1 billion in 2008 to a record high of $6.7 billion in 2012, according to the Rhodium Group, an economic research firm. Last year, Europe was the destination for 33 percent of China’s foreign direct investment.
Government support, through hidden subsidies and cheap financing, gives Chinese state-owned firms a major advantage over competitors. Since 2008, the West’s economic downturn has allowed them to gain broad access to Western markets to hunt for technology, know-how and deals that weren’t previously available to them. Western assets that weren’t on sale in the past now are, and Chinese investments have provided desperately needed liquidity.
This trend will only increase in the future, as China’s foreign direct investment skyrockets in the coming years. It is projected to reach as much as $1 trillion to $2 trillion by 2020, according to the Rhodium Group. This means that Chinese state-owned companies that enjoy a monopolistic position at home can now pursue ambitious international expansions and compete with global corporate giants. The unfairness of this situation is clearest in the steel and solar- panel industries, where China has gone from a net importer to the world’s largest producer and exporter in only a few years. It has been able to flood the market with products well below market price — and consequently destroy industries and employment in the West and elsewhere.
THIS is the real threat to the United States and other countries. However, most Western governments don’t seem to be addressing China’s state-driven expansionism as an immediate priority.
On the contrary, European governments dealing with their own economic crises see China as a country that can help, either by buying sovereign debt or going ahead with investments in their countries that will create jobs.
The Chinese state-owned company Cosco currently manages the main cargo terminal in the biggest Greek port, Piraeus, near Athens — a 35-year concession deal. And China’s sovereign wealth fund, C.I.C., took a 10 percent stake in London’s Heathrow Airport in 2012, as well as a nearly 9 percent stake in the British utility company Thames Water. The state-owned firms Three Gorges Corporation and State Grid are the main foreign investors in Portugal’s power-generation sector, and C.I.C. also bought a 7 percent stake in France’s Eutelsat Communications.
In the Greek port the Chinese have been able to triple capacity, amid local unions’ criticism of worsening labor conditions. It’s too early to measure China’s impact in the other investments, but the fact that Chinese companies are able to invest in sectors that are closed or restricted for European firms in China says a lot about how minimal Europe’s leverage with China is.
Take Germany, which accounts for nearly half of the European Union’s exports to China. It’s highly unlikely that Berlin would make unfair competition the cornerstone of its China policy. Moreover, the lack of leverage and leadership in Brussels means that the union is unable to take firm action to force China into adopting measures that would level the playing field or guarantee reciprocity in its domestic market.
The only exception is the United States, which seems to be addressing the issue by pushing forward the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade association that is seen by critics in Beijing and elsewhere as an American-led policy to contain China. The club is thought to be restricted to countries that meet high American standards on issues like free competition, labor and environmental standards and intellectual property rights. As China doesn’t meet those standards, it will have to reform or risk regional isolation. Moreover, the United States has made life difficult for the Chinese telecom giant Huawei by refusing to grant it contracts from leading American telecom companies. This is not just about national security concerns but also about sending Beijing a clear message that the United States government is willing to block one of China’s most visible and successful companies.
While Western companies complain about barriers to public procurement and bidding and struggles to compete in restricted sectors in China, Chinese companies enjoy red carpet treatment in Europe, buying up strategic assets and major companies like Volvo and the German equipment manufacturer Putzmeister.
The perception is that China is now unavoidable and, consequently, the only option is to be accommodating — offering everything from a generous investment environment to essentially dropping human rights from the agenda. “We don’t have any stick. We can just offer carrots and hope for the best,” a senior European official told us.
Greenland, a massive resource-rich territory largely controlled by Denmark, is a case in point. Last year, it passed legislation to allow foreign workers into the country who earned salaries below the local legal minimum wage (the minimum wage there is one of the highest in the world). Chinese representatives had made it clear that Chinese state-owned banks and companies would invest in the high-risk, costly exploitation of Greenland’s vast mining resources only if the modification of local regulations would allow the arrival of thousands of low-wage Chinese workers.
The Arctic territory didn’t have too many alternatives. No other country is in a position to become Greenland’s strategic partner for its future development, given the business risks involved in the Arctic region and the scale of the investment needed in a territory bigger than Mexico but without a single highway. An American oil company couldn’t have handled the task alone. The Chinese state capitalist system, by contrast, allows multiple state-owned companies to work together, making it possible for the China National Petroleum Corporation, for instance, to extract oil while China Railway builds basic infrastructure.
Greenland’s leaders accepted China’s terms because they likely believed these costly projects might never go ahead if the Chinese didn’t get involved; only China has the money, the demand, the experience and the political will to proceed. Moreover, there are not enough skilled workers in Greenland for such projects, so the Greenlandic government made an exception to the law, allowing Chinese laborers to earn less than minimum wage figuring that local residents would benefit from new infrastructure and royalties.
China’s deep pockets, as well as its extensive labor force and unlimited demand for natural resources, made all the difference, and accordingly Greenland was prepared to pass tailor-made legislation to meet Chinese needs. Even Denmark, which holds authority in Greenland in areas like migration and foreign policy, decided not to interfere.
IT is even happening in progressive bastions like Canada. President Obama’s refusal thus far to approve the Keystone pipeline project has made Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s conservative government turn to China to secure an export market for Canadian crude oil reserves. The Calgary-based oil industry has lobbied Mr. Harper to adopt a new diversification strategy that includes the construction of a controversial pipeline to western British Columbia, despite strong opposition from environmental groups, the First Nations aboriginal communities and the public. In the meantime, Canada also signed a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China, which gives remarkably generous investment protection to the Chinese.
With China in the center of debates over FIPA and the west coast pipeline, Canada’s government then approved the takeover of the Canadian energy giant Nexen by the Chinese state-owned oil firm Cnooc. The $15.1 billion transaction was China’s largest foreign takeover.
Closer economic ties have had political side effects; the Harper administration now seems much more cautious in criticizing China’s human rights record. Given that Canada was until very recently one of the fiercest voices on China’s handling of dissidents, this is not only a remarkable 180-degree turn, but also a clear indication of how China’s economic influence can push the political agenda to the sidelines, even in the West.
In Australia, Chinese accumulated investment inflows at the end of 2012 surpassed $50 billion. The trend is striking: Chinese direct investment in Australia in 2012 increased 21 percent from 2011 levels to reach $11.4 billion, making it an important player in Australia’s mining industry. Australia’s trade portfolio remains highly diversified, but the Chinese share is growing rapidly.
China has also become the biggest investor in Germany (in terms of the number of deals), surpassing the United States. Chinese companies are looking for companies that, like Putzmeister, have a technological edge and have become world leaders in niche markets. Those takeovers also allow them to absorb Western know-how on branding, marketing, distribution and customer relations. Others are more opportunistic. Faced with recession, struggling European firms like Volvo quickly welcomed Chinese partners who were ready to inject capital and take full control.
The loans that Beijing is giving worldwide are even more significant, in dollar terms, than direct foreign investment. These loans include $40 billion to Venezuela and more than $8 billion to Turkmenistan in recent years. China’s policy banks (China Development Bank and Export-Import Bank of China) are the key institutions supporting China’s “Go global” strategy, as they provide billions of dollars in loans to foreign countries to acquire Chinese goods; finance Chinese-built infrastructure; and start projects in the extractive and other industries.
This is clearest in countries where the West claims to link its aid to human rights and good business practices. Chinese loans have been crucial in countries like Angola that have faced threats of a cutoff in financing from Western creditors, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Ecuador, Venezuela, Turkmenistan, Sudan and Iran have all faced such difficulties, and China has stepped in without political or ethical strings attached. Chinese statistics reveal little about these loans, but a study by The Financial Times showed that, between 2009 and 2010, China was the world’s largest lender, doling out $110 billion, more than the World Bank.
It is important to remember what is really behind China’s global economic expansion: the state. China may be moving in the right direction on a number of issues, but when Chinese state-owned companies go abroad and seek to play by rules that emanate from an authoritarian regime, there is grave danger that Western countries will, out of economic need, end up playing by Beijing’s rules.
As China becomes a global player and a fierce competitor in American and European markets, its political system and state capitalist ideology pose a threat. It is therefore essential that Western governments stick to what has been the core of Western prosperity: the rule of law, political freedom and fair competition.
They must not think shortsightedly. Giving up on our commitment to human rights, or being compliant in the face of rapacious state capitalism, will hurt Western countries in the long term. It is China that needs to adapt to the world, not the other way around.