Published on 28 Nov 2011

China and the world rebuild our infrastructure

Britain’s economy has at best stalled. Its joblessness is sky-high. So tomorrow we’ll see perhaps a roadmap for reindustrialisation. Britain is badly in need of hundreds of billions of pounds of ports, roads, railways just to keep up with eastern high-growth economies. But the government says it doesn’t have the money.

Lucky then, that the man overseeing China‘s $410bn sovereign wealth fund, Jin Liqun has told me that: “We would be more than happy to step in and invest in the infrastructure development in the UK.

“Your country has a very good infrastructure over the years but it needs upgrading, needs renovation or you need new infrastructure facilities. I was invited to attend a couple of meetings by your government for instance financing Digital Britain and financing other developments in the UK.

“We noticed that some of the infrastructure in this part of the world, regretfully, is lagging behind” Jamal Majid bin Thaniah

“I’m very much encouraged by the vast amount of opportunities we could have in your country and the China Investment Corporation has put a lot of money into your country”.

So from a chopper above the Thames I see a nation that used to build the world’s infrastructure that now wants the world to build ours. Infrastructure spending not by our government, but from abroad — from state guaranteed companies – from the Arab world and China paying for Britain’s infrastructure.

Canary Wharf on the Wirral

At Britain’s new deep-sea port, the London Gateway, 25 miles east of the capital is what “growth” should look like: 36,000 jobs being created in a massive high-tech logistics park and a new piece of essential economic kit for Britain’s future.

As Simon Moore, London Gateway’s chief executive, says this is for the “mammoths of the sea” to connect London directly to China and India from 2013. All this is paid for by Dubai Ports world – for the government it seems to be a free lunch. The middle eastern investors are happy to be signing mega-deals like this in Britain, but it’s our failure to invest in the past that’s attractive.

Jamal Majid bin Thaniah, the vice-chairman DP World: “We noticed that some of the infrastructure in this part of the world, regretfully, is lagging behind”.

There is still an important question as to just how much exporting rather than importing will be done through the London Gateway by 2013.

To get a better idea of where that’s going, come to Merseyside. It’s all very well to get a port built near London, but what of here, the gateway of Britain’s old industrial past an old Port of Liverpool repair dock across the Mersey in Liverpool. But here too, the ambition is incredible as they look to China to build a “Canary Wharf on the Wirral”.

The developer, Peel Holdings has created a Chinese-style vision of extraordinary transformation and development, skyscrapers, and yachts in this the Wirral Waters project. It’s twinned with a similar development on the Liverpool side of the Mersey designed to mark the Atlantic Gateway to Britain from China in many ways.

Lindsey Ashworth wants Chinese traders, Chinese goods, Chinese banks, “so we’re like a family. They’ve got trillions they’re sat on”.

Pension funds ‘mobilised’

To kick it off, up to a thousand Chinese manufacturers will anchor a massive showroom trade centre for their products for the whole of Europe. The first of its kind in western Europe, it could even use Merseyside labour for actual assembly that would count as British manufacturing albeit Chinese-owned, a bridgehead in the EU for Chinese exports and investment.

This is no charity. China invests here while dragging its feet over funding the eurozone bailout partly because China’s new strategy is to build the world’s infrastructure. Our government has forced its way to the front of the funding queue, our top ministers present long lists of infrastructure projects in private meetings. Here in the Wirral the government gave effective fast-track planning approval alongside low-tax Enterprise Zone status.

Vince Cable, the business secretary told me last month, touring the London Gateway port that “vast sums were involved” in this sort of funding. But today the government also hopes to mobilise tens of billions from Britain’s pension funds and a smattering of government funds.

Back at the Atlantic Gateway there is the pioneer project in £200bn of infrastructure that the government is touting around the world. The irony is it’s never been cheaper for Britain to borrow the money itself to fund these jobs-rich projects: but we’re leaving it to the east.

Follow Faisal’s award-winning commentary on economic matters via Twitter: @FaisalIslam

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7 reader comments

  1. mehmet says:

    West, especially European countries need China’ markes and investmenst to survive . However, China demands techonology transfer from west , which in fact strictly restricted by USA . Therefore , none of USA’s allies are not allowed to transfer or sell any high tech weapon or technology to China. If i were ruling the China I would not help the west until the fair high tech transfer tradement agreement is signed . They are isolated by the west and forced not to take over the world. To me , I prefer two super powers to one , which makes the world more balanced .

  2. Murad Qureshi says:

    I won’t be surprised if the Chinese end up building HS2 with not just their monies but experience of High Speed train construction in China.

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