The first six months of 2020 BRI investments show highest share of renewable energy investment, amid a 50% decline in total BRI investments

Overall BRI investment trends

New data released by the American Enterprise Institute show that most countries of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have experienced a decline in Chinese investments in the first half of 2020. Overall investments in the BRI were USD 23.4 billion in the first six months of 2020, dropping by about 50% from USD 46 billion invested during the first six months of 2019 (and dropping by 60% compared to the first six months of 2018). 2020 BRI investments were the slowest of any 6 months period since the BRI had been announced in 2013.

Chinese investments in non-BRI countries slowed even faster from 21 billion USD in the first 6 months of 2019 to 4.4 billion USD in the first 6 months of 2020.

Graph: Investment in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) 2014-2019 within the first six months of each year (top: total BRI investments in million USD; bottom: year-on-year change in %)

BRI investment trends in different sectors

BRI investments in the first half of 2020 went into all sectors. Energy investments accounted for 37.6% of total investments, transport-related investments for about 30%. This is a continuation of a focus on infrastructure investments in the BRI.

Compared to the previous years, most sectors saw a decline in BRI investments in the first half of 2020 (see Figure 3). The strongest decline in BRI investments was in energy investments, which dropped from USD 19.7 billion in the first half of 2019 to USD 8.8 billion in the first half of 2020. Investments in metals increased slightly from USD 2.7 billion to USD 3.2 billion. Health-related investments, which could be seen as a part of the health-silk road, have declined in the first half of 2020 to USD 130 million, down from USD 160 million in the comparison period 2019.

Graph: Sectoral investments in the Belt and Road Initiative 2014-2020 within the first six months of each year

Regional analysis of Belt and Road Initiative investments

The decline in BRI investments was not even across all regions. While West Asia and East Asia saw the sharpest drops in investments, Europe saw slight increases and South America strong increases (from a low level in 2019) in BRI related investments.

Graph: BRI investments 2014-2019 within the first six months of each year by region (top: investments in USD; bottom: year-on-year change)

In Europe, it was the two BRI countries Bosnia and Serbia and in South America it was the BRI country Peru that contributed to an increase in BRI related investments.

Looking at specific investments in these countries, the data shows that transport-related investment, particularly a 780 million USD investment by China Ocean Shipping (COSCO) in Peru’s Chancay port (out of a total of about USD 2 bn investment) and a USD 800 million by Zijin Mining to expand its Serbia portfolio were responsible for the increases of BRI investments in these regions.

Green and non-green energy investments in the Belt and Road Initiative

Looking at BRI energy investments, 2020 saw a relative increase of non-fossil fuel related energy investments. While in the first 6 months of 2019 56% of energy investments were fossil fuel-related, the share dropped to 42%.

In other words, 2020 was the first half year, when non-fossil fuel related energy investment (including large hydropower) dominated BRI energy investments.

The two countries with the highest energy-related investments were (see Figure 6):

  • Pakistan with an USD 1.93 billion investment in hydropower by Power Construction Group (PowerChina), possibly the Dasu Hydropower Project;
  • Vietnam with an USD 310 million in solar power by PowerChina, possibly the Dau Tieng project, as well as USD 2.1 billion in coal-fired power plant, possibly the Nam Dinh 1 Thermal Power Plant together together with ACWA Power and Taekwang Power Holdings (Korea).

Graph: Renewable and non-renewable energy investments in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), 2014-2020 within the first six months of each year

Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) investments compared to international foreign direct investments (FDI) in 2020

According to UNCTAD’s World Investment Report 2020, global FDI flows will decrease by up to 40% in 2020, from their 2019 value of $1.54 trillion (see Figure 1).

This would bring global FDI below $1 trillion for the first time since 2005. In addition, FDI is projected to decrease by a further 5% to 10% in 2021 and to initiate a recovery in 2022, the report says.

“The outlook is highly uncertain. Prospects depend on the duration of the health crisis and on the effectiveness of policies mitigating the pandemic’s economic effects”

UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi
UNCTAD Decline in foreign direct investments 2020 Covid-19
UNCTAD Decline in foreign direct investments 2020 Covid-19 (Source: UNCTAD)

Outlook for Belt and Road Investments

The Covid-19 crisis is a risk for all investors. In its report, UNCTAD elaborated on five interrelated issues that could see a further decline in all types of cross-border investments:

  • FDI is slowing as ongoing projects are stuck in implementation (e.g. due to lock-downs)
  • With less FDI, less projects will be completed that could earn money for investors, which in turn leads to less money being reinvested
  • Global investment restrictions (e.g. due to political reasons) can further add to the problems
  • Investors are tightening their budget due to broader economic recessions
  • Investors and companies are aiming to nearshore to increase supply chain resilience and thus avoid investing (far) abroad
UNCTAD Decline in Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) Covid-19
UNCTAD Decline in Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) Covid-19 (Source: UNCTAD)

Next steps for successful Belt and Road Initiative investments

Chinese investments into the Belt and Road Initiative countries in the first 6 months of 2020 have declined by 49% relative to the first six months of 2019, while Chinese investments in non-BRI countries have declined by 80%. Chinese overseas investments could pick up in the second half of 2020. In order to ensure a continued success of the BRI, the following recommendations should be considered:

Recommendations for Green BRI investment recommendations in the covid-19 crisis
Recommendations for Green BRI investment recommendations in the covid-19 crisis
  1. Focus on projects that are financially sustainable. This also should immediately phase out and stop all coal-fired investments, which still take up 35% of energy-related BRI investments even in 2020. Coal-investments will with all likelihood be stranded assets before they are commissioned, as renewable electricity is already cheaper than coal-fired electricity in most cases
  2. Support partner-countries and partner businesses in dealing with (sovereign) debt-repayment of already invested BRI projects
  3. Increase cooperation for BRI projects with international partners to allow existing and useful projects to go ahead also in difficult times.
  4. Increase use of common standards for environmental and social risk management (ESMS),  as international investors (e.g. World Bank, IFC, AfDB, ADB, EBRD) all apply similar standards. This will allow Chinese investors and international investors to more easily co-invest
  5. Require socially and environmentally conscious phase-out plans for non-performing investments in order to avoid reputational, social and environmental risks of possibly abandoned or mothballed projects.

References

Cukia M. “45MW Solar Power Project in Vietnam Completed.” Construction Review Online (blog), July 2, 2020. https://constructionreviewonline.com/2020/07/45mw-solar-power-project-in-vietnam-completed/.

Derek, Scissors. “China Global Investment Tracker 2020.” China Global Investment Tracker. Washington: American Enterprise Institute, July 2020. http://www.aei.org/china-global-investment-tracker/.

Hellenic Shipping News. “COSCO SHIPPING Ports PERU (Chancay) Project Official Transfer Ceremony and COSCO SHIPPING Ports Chancay PERU S.A. Promotional Event Were Officially Held in Peru.” Hellenic Shipping News, May 16, 2019. https://www.hellenicshippingnews.com/cosco-shipping-ports-peru-chancay-project-official-transfer-ceremony-and-cosco-shipping-ports-chancay-peru-s-a-promotional-event-were-officially-held-in-peru/.

NS Energy Business. “Dasu Hydropower Project, Indus River, Kohistan, Pakistan.” NS Energy Business, 2020. https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/projects/dasu-hydropower-project/.

———. “Nam Dinh 1 Thermal Power Plant, Hai Hau,Nam Dinh, Vietnam.” NS Energy Business (blog), 2020. https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/projects/nam-dinh-1-thermal-power-plant/.

Ralev, Radomir. “China’s Zijin to Invest $800 Mln in Serbia in 2020 – Report.” SeeNews, January 14, 2020. http://seenews.com/news/chinas-zijin-to-invest-800-mln-in-serbia-in-2020-report-683382.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). “World Investment Report 2020.” World Investment Report. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 2020. https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/wir2020_en.pdf.

Disclaimer about the data from the AEI China Investment Tracker

The AEI China Investment Tracker is published bi-annually by the American Enterprise Institute, an American think tank. It has been tracking Chinese overseas investments since 2005 and has established itself as one of the most cited and reliable sources for analyzing Chinese overseas investments. It tracks Chinese overseas investments with a value of more than USD 100 million, but does not disclose its data sources. It is one of several data providers for Chinese overseas investments (besides e.g. Refinitiv, Bloomberg) that aims to bring more transparency in Chinese business activities. More information about the AEI can be found here:  www.aei.org

The author, the Green BRI Center or the International Institute of Green Finance have no relation to the American Enterprise Institute and use the data only for analyses.

About the author(s)

Director Green Belt and Road Initiative Center at International Institute for Green Finance


Dr. Christoph NEDOPIL WANG is the Founding Director of the Green Belt and Road Initiative Center and a Senior Research Fellow at the International Institute of Green Finance (IIGF) of the Central University of Finance and Economics (CUFE) in Beijing, China.


Christoph is a member of the Belt and Road Initiative Green Coalition (BRIGC) of the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment. He has contributed to policies and provided research/consulting amongst others for the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED), the Ministry of Commerce, various private and multilateral finance institutions (e.g. ADB, IFC, as well as multilateral institutions (e.g. UNDP, UNESCAP) and international governments.


Christoph holds a master of engineering from the Technical University Berlin, a master of public administration from Harvard Kennedy School, as well as a PhD in Economics. He has extensive experience in finance, sustainability, innovation, and infrastructure, having worked for the International Finance Corporation (IFC) for almost 10 years and being a Director for the Sino-German Sustainable Transport Project with the German Cooperation Agency GIZ in Beijing.


He has authored books, articles and reports, including UNDP's SDG Finance Taxonomy, IFC's “Navigating through Crises” and “Corporate Governance - Handbook for Board Directors”, and multiple academic papers on capital flows, sustainability and international development.

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