Bucking politics, Western banks fight for piece of Belt and Road
Clients ‘see the BRI as a generational opportunity to expand’
For all the strides China has made attracting international participation in its own initiatives across the globe, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Xi Jinping has failed to convince Western leaders to publicly sign on to his most important program.
Often referred to as Xi’s “signature” or “flagship” inititative, some have gone so far as to say that the Chinese president’s legacy itself will rest on the success or failure of the Belt and Road Initiative. And yet, Xi was only able to coax the leader of one major Western country to attend the biggest Chinese diplomatic event of last year, a summit in Beijing to promote the landmark policy initiative.
Earlier this month the snubs continued, when UK Prime Minister Theresa May declined to sign a memorandum of understanding giving her government’s official endorsement to the BRI during her visit to Beijing.
But, through the fog of politics, big banks are making their own calculations, which clearly show they should be in on Xi’s big plans.
Large western lenders with operations in BRI countries have held conferences on the initiative, appointed senior bankers to champion their role in the initiative and set up committees to coordinate related business strategies, The Financial Times reports.
The banks, such as Citigroup, HSBC, and Standard Chartered, say the effort has already proven worthwhile, citing dozens of successful deals in some way related to BRI.
“It’s huge — the private sector capital that comes in afterwards will be really impactful, assuming it all happens,” Bill Winters, StanChart chief executive, was quoted as saying. “Our job is to try and pull the different pieces together, because there will be some local financing that is required as well.”
Gerry Keefe, head of corporate banking in Asia-Pacific at Citigroup, said that their “multinational clients — both from the US and in Asia — see the Belt and Road Initiative as a generational opportunity to expand the scale and reach of their businesses.”
StanChart alone lists a reported 20 financing deals won in the past four years that are linked to BRI. They include a US$515 million project for a power plant in Zambia, a US$200 million loan for a Bangladesh electricity plant, and a US$42 million export credit facility for a gas terminal in Sri Lanka.