China builds its way to wealth, report shows

Latest research finds China is the second-wealthiest country in built assets and is likely to surpass the US next year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 3:56am

China has been ranked as the second-wealthiest country in built assets and it is set to surpass the United States by next year, according to the latest research.

The country was placed second in the first Global Built Asset Wealth Index with US$35.45 trillion in built assets last year, slightly lower than the US, which had US$39.73 trillion.

Instead of using gross domestic product to measure the wealth of a country, the index measures the accumulated wealth of a place's built assets, which include the value of public and private properties and infrastructure such as residential and commercial space, transport infrastructure ranging from roads and rails to airports, power plants and water networks.

According to the index, which was conducted by global consultancy EC Harris and surveyed 30 countries and cities, Hong Kong was at 24th place with US$1.03 trillion in built assets.

Japan and India were at the third and fourth positions respectively, while Singapore ranked 27th.

Four of the 10 wealthiest countries were from Asia, including South Korea in eighth place.

"Countries with higher levels of built assets should be well placed to generate greater levels of economic output and therefore greater levels of income, reflecting the distribution of global economic power," the report said.

It found that China's built asset stock in 2012 was estimated at 286 per cent of its GDP, compared with the international average of 284 per cent.

"This would indicate that arguments suggesting China is overinvesting may be misplaced, at least for now," the research said.

Arguments suggesting China is overinvesting may be misplaced
research report

It forecast China would outpace the US to become the wealthiest country by built assets as early as next year. In 2022, China is expected to have accumulated built assets worth US$75.7 trillion, greater than the amount of the US and India combined.

"The sheer rapidity of this development, funded almost entirely by the government, has the potential to lead to problems with the sustainability of its future built environment," the study warned.

"There is a danger that building assets too quickly and in the wrong place could lead to more examples of the 'ghost shopping malls' and empty residential estates that have arisen across the country when a 'build it and they will come' mentality was prevalent."

The value of the built assets of the 30 countries and cities studied was estimated at a combined US$193 trillion last year, almost three times the US$68 trillion produced in GDP by these regions in the same year.

Singapore had an estimated US$156,000 in built assets per person, making it the place with the wealthiest population. Hong Kong ranked fifth with about US$140,000 per person. China's built asset wealth of US$26,000 per person placed it at 24th, significantly lower than US$126,000 in the US.

"Despite the rapid growth in emerging markets, their built asset wealth per person still falls well short of that in developed economies. By 2022, China's built asset wealth per person will still be 61 per cent lower than that of the US," the report said.