The Financial Times, in association with First Eastern Investment Group, will bring together key decision-makers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for the FT China-Middle East Summit 2008, the second in a series of significant FT conferences on key opportunities and challenges surrounding the New Silk Road.
The Silk Road transformed commercial and geo-political relations from the 2nd Century BC to the decline of the Mongol empire in the 1400s. In the 21st Century, this greatest of all East-West trading routes has regained major prominence. The New Silk Road — the revival of trade and investment between the Gulf and Asia — features large movements of capital as well as goods, and is founded on the search for energy sufficiency, a new security landscape, and very rapid economic growth.
China is a major part of this metaphorical roadway. Trade between the Middle East and China totalled US$69 billion last year, up from US$6 billion in 1995. Saudi Arabia and the other five Gulf states, flush with liquidity from the world’s strong demand for oil, invested around US$20 billion in China last year and are expected to invest up to US$250 billion in Asia as a whole over the next five years, according to McKinsey. China, along with India, could surpass the US and Europe as the largest destination for Middle East capital.
But this is not a one-way thoroughfare. The Gulf is expected to spend hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade on its own infrastructure needs, as well as initiatives in agriculture, water supply, education, health care and IT. Saudi Arabia alone is estimated to account for US$650 billion of that prospective spending. China is among the countries competing a major role in those for projects, and is also boosting its investments in the Gulf as it seeks to lock in oil and gas supplies.
Much remains to be achieved, however, for the New Silk Road to flourish. There are regulatory barriers on both sides and a large cultural divide. Is enough being done to attract investment and is there sufficient transparency in bilateral dealings? What are the major opportunities in sectors such as property development, transportation, logistics and infrastructure? How busy will the New Silk Road be in 10 years’ time?