Mali attack casts shadow on investment

By Chen Qingqing Source:Global Times Published: 2015-11-22 22:38:02

China advised to address safety issues in Africa amid surging terrorism

The rail line from Nigeria's capital Abuja to the northern state of Kaduna, which was constructed by CRCC, was completed in December 2014. Photo: CFP

Following the terror attack in Mali in which three Chinese citizens were killed, domestic companies should enhance the risk management systems for their overseas projects, an expert said Sunday.

The Jihadist Al-Murabitoun group attacked the Radisson Blue hotel in Bamako, Mali on Friday, killing 27 people, including three Chinese nationals, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said on Saturday, according to the Xinhua News Agency. On the same day, China Railway Construction Corp (CRCC) confirmed in a statement that three of the company's executives had been killed in the attack.

CRCC has taken part in infrastructure construction projects in foreign countries and regions such as Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Europe, according to the company's interim report published in September.

Chinese companies in sectors ranging from mining and railway construction to agriculture and services have been diversifying their investments in Africa, Wu Donghua, a former analyst with the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) specializing in Chinese enterprises investing overseas, told the Global Times on Sunday.

"Also, China has been maintaining a long-term active trade partnership with African countries, which has made the continent attractive for many Chinese companies," Wu noted.

China's foreign direct investment (FDI) into Africa fell to $1.19 billion in the first six months of 2015, down roughly 40 percent year-on-year amid downward macroeconomic pressure and low commodities' prices, Shen Danyang, spokesman for MOFCOM, said during a press conference on November 17.

"However, China's investment in Africa will regain its long-term momentum, and China's total FDI in the continent is expected to surpass $100 billion by 2020," he noted.

Shen said that Chinese companies should evaluate African countries' economic outlook, market potential and investment environment, noting that the central government will encourage more industrial cooperation between China and Africa.

The State Council, China's cabinet, unveiled in May guidelines for promoting cooperation in industrial capacity and equipment manufacturing, in which Africa was highlighted as one of the top markets for Chinese companies, according to an announcement published on MOFCOM's website in July.

However, the incident in Mali shows that safety issues must be the priority for Chinese investors overseas, Wu said.

Safety problems have emerged before for Chinese companies with projects in African countries. A 26-year-old woman surnamed Yu who has worked for a Chinese construction firm in Algeria for three years told the Global Times Sunday that she was attacked once on her way to a bakery in the suburbs of Algiers, the capital city. A group of teenagers "threw stones at me because I had not fully covered my hair with a veil," she said.

Almost half of her former coworkers had been robbed there, and some thieves had also broken into the company's headquarters several times, Yu noted. These incidents were reported to the local authorities, "but they were not always very helpful," she said.  

Wu, the analyst, said the Chinese government should establish a more efficient information-sharing platform to help Chinese enterprises evaluate risk when investing overseas.

"Besides economic risks such as fluctuation in exchange rates, Chinese investors should take into account new risks like terrorist attacks, which are becoming more random and dangerous," Wu said.

Chinese enterprises operating in some African countries are facing big challenges from rebel activities and terror threats, a former military officer who wished to remain anonymous and who worked for the UN's peacekeeping operations in Mali for eight months, told the Global Times on Sunday.

"Companies have to rely on local military forces as well as the Chinese embassy, as our protection unit was not directly connected with Chinese communities there," he said, noting that some embassies have limited resources for protecting Chinese people and firms overseas against terror attacks.

Li Chen, who works at Paris-based consultancy SC Sourcing, told the Global Times Sunday that terror attacks are more dangerous in some ways than civil war, as they are "unpredictable." In cases of civil war, Li noted that African countries generally try to warn Chinese companies about any impending hostilities, as Chinese-led infrastructure and transport projects are considered important for the local economies.

Li also said he used to be a business partner of Zhou Tianxiang, one of the CRCC executives killed in the Mali attack Friday.

"Regional conflicts are likely to delay our projects in Africa, which may affect the company's profits this year; but terror attacks would be more harmful," he said.

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