Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini and Mahitha Lingala*
Fortune Magazine’s Global 500 list is noteworthy. For the first time, the number of Chinese companies in the list (119) nearly equals that of the US (121). If one were to add companies from Taiwan (10), the number of Chinese companies (129) comfortably surpasses that of China.
It would be pertinent to point out however, that the revenue of Chinese companies counts for a little over 25% (25.6%) of the 500 companies as opposed to that of the US which accounts for 28.8%.
In the top 5, there are three Chinese companies (all state owned); Sinopec group (ranked number 2), China National Petroleum (ranked number 4) and State Grid ranked number 5). The percentage of State Owned Enterprises in the list has risen from last year (over 80% in 2019 from 76.3% last year).
A number of Chinese banks like the Industrial and Commercial bank of China, followed by China Construction Bank, Agricultural Bank of China were also on the list.
This list, once again reiterates the point, that China’s growth has been largely propelled by a model of ‘State Capitalism’, where state run enterprises have helped China increase its clout globally.
In recent years however, a large number of private enterprises have also emerged like Ali Baba, Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo, Dashang Group, Ping An and legend holdings have emerged.
Ping An which is a tech giant as well which feeds its data algorithms with data harvested from its close to 200 million customers stood at the 29th place on the list with an annual revenue of $163.5 Billion.Huawei telecom jumped 11 spots from last year and was at 61st place,with revenue estimated at$ 109.03 Billion.Ali Baba witnessed fastest growth jumping 118 spots and was ranked at 182.
State Capitalism vs the model of liberal democracies
State Capitalism has been one of China’s major successes, because the Chinese government has no ambiguity in backing mega projects of its enterprises overseas like Twyford factory in the Kenyan Capital, Sunshine group’s mining activities in Tanzania, and many more infrastructural projects in the African Continent and other parts of the world. One of the most important investments is that of the Chinese Export-Import Bank provided 85 percent of the funding for the $475 million Addis Ababa Light Rail.
It would be important to point out, that even private companies, a prominent example being Huawei, are not free from Chinese interference. Australia has banned Huawei from rolling out 5G network. Trump who has dubbed Huawei as a national security threat had imposed a ‘government blacklist’. Recently, while trying to relax some of the restrictions, the US did state that Huawei was still on the entity list and would need a US government license to buy American technology.
Economic growth in democracies on the other hand is not solely dependent upon state enterprises. The number 1 company on the Fortune 500 list is Walmart. If one were to look at the case of Indian companies which are there on the list, there are two private sector companies while the rest are PSU’s. While Reliance is ranked at 99. Oil & Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) a PSU ranks 160, State Bank of India (SBI), Tata Motors, Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd (BPCL) ranked 275 and Rajesh Exports a private sector company is ranked at 495.
How Chinese companies are benefitting from BRI
A number of Chinese companies (a prominent example being shipping giant COSCO) are seeking to benefit through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) .
Beijing has injected massive amounts of capital into Chinese public financial institutions, which make borrowing costs very low as their bonds are treated like Chinese government debt, allowing them to lend cheaply to Chinese companies working on BRI projects. This enables the Chinese companies to outbid their counterparts to due to the inexpensive availability of funds. China’s state owned enterprises that suffered a drought for a while, due to the slowing of the domestic market, are getting a push due to BRI as they are now investing in over-sees infrastructural projects. Most of the BRI initiatives have thus far been implemented by Chinese Companies. Right now, 89% of BRI projects have been implemented by Chinese companies, with the main beneficiaries being construction and infrastructure sector companies.
Another Chinese Industry to gain from BRI, is the tech export industry. For example , Haier Electronics which is a Chinese appliance manufacturer has built six industrial parks in BRI countries.
Projects that initially started as merely China funded projects, they were later on leased or taken over by Chinese Companies, one such project is the Hambantota port. The port was built with 85% funding from the EXIM Bank of China, but in 2016, 80% of it was leased to a Chinese company called China Merchants Ports holding company (CMPort) for debt for equity swap.
Indo-Pacific and private sector
While US, Japan, India and Australia have been speaking about an alternative vision to the BRI , through the FOIP (Free and Open Indo Pacific). One of the distinguishing factors of the FOIP can be greater participation by Private players from these countries in connectivity and infrastructure projects.
The Trump administration has been supporting a greater role for the private sector in FOIP related connectivity initiatives.
Commenting on US involvement in the Indo-Pacific, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had stated:‘….. We want these to be commercially available projects led by the American private sector in a way that benefits the entire region and the world,”
The US Secretary of State during an address at the US Chamber of Commerce while outlining the US vision for the Indo-Pacific (which included 113 Million USD for areas such as Digital Economy, Energy and Infrastructure as well as ) while highlighting the important role of the private sector in the Indo-Pacific stated that US private companies.
The BUILD (Better Utilization of Investment leading to Development) act which received bipartisan support in the US Senate as well as House of Representatives, has helped in creating a new agency the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (USIDFC) to replace the earlier Overseas Private Investment Corporation (Corporation) which encouraged private companies to invest in Africa. USIDFC is different in a number of ways first its budget is 60 Billion USD as opposed to the earlier 29 Billion allocated for OPIC. Second, it can make deals and provide loans in local currency which makes it more attractive.
The Fortune 500 list brings to the fore many points, one of them being that liberal democracies such as US, Japan, Australia and India, need to come up with an alternative model to that of China’s State Capitalism. While the FOIP has lacked clarity, one area where it can improve is to come up with clear aims and objectives beyond countering China (the BUILD act is a positive step in this direction). This will also help counter ambiguity surrounding the versions of Japan and US’s FOIP versions. A first step could be roping in private players from US, Japan, India and Australia into infrastructural and connectivity projects and not merely depending on governments.
*Mahitha Lingala is a student at The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India