Zhou Yuan told a conference in Hong Kong last week that he could not promise to inform them, but that he hoped to entertain them. The dry-humoured head of strategy for China Investment Corporation then proceeded to do both as he talked about how China would view infrastructure investment in the region.
中投公司(China Investment Corporation)首席策略官周元最近在香港的一次会议上对与会者说，尽管他不能保证会向大家透露什么情报，但他希望大家会对他说的东西感兴趣。这位冷幽默风格的首席策略官后来谈到了中国对该地区基础设施投资的看法。
Few subjects generate more interest and debate in Asian financial circles than infrastructure. Participants want to know how the new China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will operate and what roles other groups, such as banks and long-term investors, might play.
在亚洲金融圈里，鲜有话题比基础设施更能引起人们的兴趣和争论。与会者想知道，新成立的、中国主导的亚洲基础设施投资银行（Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank，简称：亚投行）到底将如何运作，以及银行、长期投资者等其他群体可能会扮演什么角色。
At the heart of the matter are enormous estimates of what Asia needs to spend on infrastructure in the coming years and questions about how much of this China will provide — and on what terms.
“If you can’t expect a return — that is, if you can’t expect infrastructure projects to pay you a dividend some time down the road, you can’t call that investment any more. You might as well call that a Marshall Plan,” Mr Zhou said at the Financial Times’ Investment Management Summit.
“如果你不能指望获得回报，也就是说，如果你不能指望基础设施项目在将来某个时刻向你支付红利，那你就不能再把它称作投资。你还不如把它称作马歇尔计划(Marshall Plan)，”周元在英国《金融时报》投资管理峰会(FT Investment Management Summit)上表示。
Inevitably, comparisons abound between China’s AIIB and the US-financed 1948 Marshall Plan that supported European rebuilding after the second world war, and which deployed its current account surpluses in a way that supported American economic and geopolitical goals.
China’s current plans include its Silk Road economic initiative (One Belt, One Road), its interest in a Brics development bank as well as the AIIB and other investments such as those funded by CIC, its sovereign wealth fund.
China Development Bank reckons the number of cross-border projects in train under the Silk Road effort already total $980bn in investment value. Other figures put Asia’s total need nearer $8tn by 2020. “Everyone will give you a different number. The one thing is they will all be wrong but they will all be big,” said James Cameron, head of project and export finance for HSBC in Asia.
中国国家开发银行(China Development Bank)估计，“一带一路”的项目储备库，涉及投资资金超过8900亿美元。其他数字则显示，亚洲直至2020年的基建总投资需求接近8万亿美元。汇丰 (HSBC)亚洲项目和出口融资主管詹姆斯•卡梅隆(James Cameron)表示：“每个人给出的数字都不同。只有一件事是肯定的，这些数字全是错的、但它们全都很大。”
Back on the ground, China’s planned spending has banks and other investors wondering what might be left for them. Project financiers are already struggling because regulators are forcing banks to hold more capital against long-term lending in riskier emerging markets.
Investors do not have it much easier. Backing a power station in Vietnam, secured against the future income of the plant, might seem a good bet to a pension fund manager looking for assets to match long-term liabilities. But regulators are worried about the currency and the country risk, so they ask for capital and other regulatory protections, pushing up the cost of such investments.
“Pension funds and insurance companies are very interested but may not always be able to invest,” said François Leblanc, head of BNP Paribas’s Asia-Pacific financial institutions team, who cited funds’ own investment guidelines as another constraint.
法国巴黎银行(BNP Paribas)亚太金融机构团队主管弗朗索瓦•勒布朗(François Leblanc)说：“养老基金和保险公司都非常感兴趣，但或许不总是能够投资。”他认为基金自身的投资准则也构成了限制。
“There are a lot of difficulties. Bridging the gaps isn’t easy between what markets can deliver today and what investors need,” he said.
On that basis, Mr Zhou’s comments about a commercial focus, at least from CIC, will be welcome. One fear has been that China would persist with vendor-style financing, where many developing countries with natural resources received funding for infrastructure — supplied, financed and built by Chinese companies.
If China is more serious about a commercially based markets-based system — including through the AIIB, which it will lead — then Asia more generally stands to gain.
“The AIIB has a range of potential tools,” said HSBC’s Mr Cameron. “They could invest or fund directly, look at perhaps taking a slice of the risk, provide guarantees or help with ensuring the right advice is given upfront to structure projects to be more attractive for outside financing and investment. There’s a lot that could help develop the whole infrastructure financing space.”
Asian infrastructure is particularly tricky because of the region’s different legal systems and markets, all at varying stages of development. The sheer range of projects under way complicates the sector further. But any sign of standardisation — such as one power station or road system using the same funding template used by a previous, successful venture — would help the next project. And that could ultimately transform Asian financing as well as its infrastructure landscape.