India seeks China's transport expertise

New Delhi eyes Chinese investment and assistance in projects such ashigh-speed rail networks,highways and urban infrastructure

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 3:54am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 3:54am

India is looking to Chinese investment and expertise to build high-speed rail networks, highways and urban infrastructure.

"We are planning to create a rapid regional transport system in Delhi that will link the capital with some of the important urban centres nearby with high-speed trains," said Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath. "Given their strength in mass rapid transit systems, we would like to benefit from China's experience in this field."

Chinese companies such as Shanghai Urban Construction Group are already involved in a host of infrastructure projects in India, mainly digging tunnels and installing escalators in underground metro projects.

Nath said India would like to see Chinese participation in an even wider range of projects, including waste management, water recycling and affordable housing. The two countries had signed a memorandum of understanding on sewage treatment, while one on highways was on the drawing board, he said.

Talks are also under way on an agreement on sustainable urbanisation with the National Development and Reform Commission, which Nath hoped would pave the way for greater Chinese investment in India.

"Both our countries face similar challenges in managing cities and towns. Chinese companies would be able to better appreciate the ground reality, and they have a good record of accomplishing work within a stipulated time," he said.

Nath also noted that India allowed 100 per cent foreign direct investment in most infrastructure sectors, with no restrictions on repatriation of profits.

India is targeting infrastructure investments of US$1 trillion in the five years to 2017, and US$5 trillion in the long term. The government has set up a panel to speed up stalled infrastructure projects to boost growth, and by the end of August it had cleared projects worth US$62 billion.

According to HSBC's latest trade forecast report, India is set to topple the United States by 2020 as the biggest importer of materials needed for infrastructure projects, as it embarks on a massive modernisation drive.

To date, the main Chinese role in Indian infrastructure trade had been in the provision of equipment and project contracting, said James Cameron, HSBC's Asia-Pacific head of project finance. India is already China's largest overseas market for project exports.

"Chinese finance has also played a role, with a few high-profile multibillion-dollar involvements," Cameron said.

China's US$3.66 trillion stash of foreign currency reserves is an attraction for countries like India looking to fund expensive infrastructure projects, while such projects also give Beijing an avenue for safe overseas investment.

During his trip to Indonesia this month, President Xi Jinping floated the idea of an Asian infrastructure bank, which would leverage China's foreign-exchange pile and expertise in infrastructure building in Asia.

China has been investing in infrastructure in the West as well. China Investment Corp, the country's main sovereign wealth fund, bought part of British utility Thames Water last year and has invested £450 million (HK$5.6 billion) in London's Heathrow Airport.