FDI flow from China to Eurasia is ebbing

FDI flow from China to Eurasia is ebbing
Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov (left) meets with Xinjiang’s leader, Ma Xingrui, during a recent two-day visit to China. No major deals were announced after the visit. / gov.uz
By Eurasianet March 11, 2024

Chinese total investment in formerly Soviet states from 2016 through the first half of 2023 approached $80bn, according to data published by the Eurasian Development Bank. But Beijing’s zest for foreign investment seems to be waning.

Kazakhstan captured a 52% share, or roughly $41.9bn, of Chinese investment in Eurasia during the seven-and-a-half-year span, the bank reported via its Telegram channel. Russia received $19.7bn, or roughly 24% of the foreign direct investment (FDI) by Chinese entities. A large majority of investment went to the oil & gas sector, with China’s state-controlled energy conglomerate CNPC serving as the main supplier of funds.

Given Beijing’s emphasis on energy and pipelines, it is no surprise that Turkmenistan placed third in China’s 2016-2023 FDI table for Eurasia, garnering $9.4bn in investment. Russia is the largest single investor in the EDB. The bank’s figures for investment in formerly Soviet states excluded Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are now European Union members.

The EDB’s survey also did not include numbers for the last half of 2023, a period when the Chinese domestic economy hit a variety of speedbumps, including high unemployment, burgeoning municipal debt and deflation. There is abundant anecdotal evidence that China’s mounting domestic fiscal woes, compounded by a sluggish national government response to challenges, is hampering Beijing’s ability to act as an FDI pumping station.

For example, Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov appears to have come up empty-handed during a recent visit to China’s western Xinjiang Region. According to the UZDaily outlet, the aim of the visit was to invigorate trade and investment, but no new deals were announced. An investment event in Tashkent, as well as one hosted by the Uzbek consulate in the coastal Chinese city of Guangzhou, both generated buzz in the Uzbek press, but also seemingly failed to drum up new business.

The head of Kyrgyzstan’s government, Akylbek Japarov, participated in a joint meeting with Uzbek PM Aripov and Chinese officials in Xinjiang in early March, with discussions focusing on getting the much touted China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan (CKU) railway project back on track. The project has been stalled by China’s reluctance to kick in more funding. No progress on the project was reported following the fresh round of talks.

This article first appeared on Eurasianet here.