News Xina 16

Infrastructure: the key to the Chinese bid for world leadership

Throughout history, no world power has consolidated its hegemony without investing heavily in infrastructure. This can be seen in the case of China, which has committed to developing a range of highly competitive infrastructure that has bolstered the country's strong economic and social growth.

Clearly, Chinese political leaders are committed to achieving global leadership with all the consequences that entails. They have harnessed the opening up of the economic model they inherited to support it with industrial, scientific and technical growth, which has enabled the shift from an agricultural and manufacturing economy to creating their own very advanced proposals in such strategic sectors as telecommunications, robotics, mobility and infrastructure. They have been able to harness the protection of the strong political power structures that characterised private initiative, adapting it to the 'collective' interest.

Unarguably, the tight political, economic, and financial protectionism that China has fostered in the last few decades, and that is still key to the country's future, has removed all traces of competition and promoted the growth of Chinese construction companies, making them some of the strongest in the world. This has driven Spanish companies out, which are also among the most capable in the world, and which have cautiously turned their backs on the Asian giant. Leaders of large Spanish construction companies attribute their lack of interest to the legal uncertainty and transparency issues, in addition to protectionism.

Today, major Chinese construction companies are already competing with Spanish firms for large international projects. However, there is one key difference that works in favour of Chinese companies: the government designs, funds and executes some of the most important infrastructure projects. Currently, China promotes many of the major challenges in civil engineering worldwide, and these can only be addressed from the perspective of its capacity to engage all stakeholders needed to execute them: engineering, construction, finance, diplomacy, etc. Who else right now can come up with proposals like the high-speed rail link between the US and China? Or the Nicaragua channel to compete with the Panama channel? Or developing major transport, water and energy infrastructure in Africa?

It has to be said that Chinese construction firms have done their homework well; they have cleverly used these advantages to improve procedures, learn and become competitive global companies. Spanish companies are very well placed to compete under the West's demanding standards for public works, but this is a temporary lead.

It is also important to note that the lion's share of major infrastructure - some €17 billion by 2020 - will be invested in developing countries (India could account for over 5% of this sum). In this context, backed by their government's financial and diplomatic power, Chinese companies may prove to be unbeatable in the bid for public works projects in the third world. Added to this, the technical cutting edge of our companies will rapidly diminish, day by day.

Oriol Altisench
President of the Civil Engineering Association of Catalonia