The talent and wherewithal that has created world-leading infrastructure could provide benefits even in tough times

In a time of easy money, or continuous supply of easy credit, it

seems no one is saying "cash is king". That is a phrase that one hears in a business slump, when sales fall and banks stop lending.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, however, every government has learned how to prevent that from happening - through central-bank-imposed easy credit under various names. So companies can continue to borrow and investors can continue to trade their securities.

But before long, as every sensible investor should know, money cannot be allowed to stray too far from a society's total value. There will be a correction. And in one way or another, the invisible hand, which Adam Smith attributed to God, will come to help the world wipe out its excessive liquidity. It will, sooner or later.

When the correction comes, if an investor has failed to make a profit from the abundant money supply, he would be a net loser.

That means now, when that correction may come about at any time, he must act quickly to find a worthy, or potentially profitable, project to invest in. So when money is no longer king, it can be a prison. And the key for the "prison-breaker", so to speak, is to find better projects than most other people can.

At the moment, thanks to its rich capital and demand, China is one of the few countries in the world that has the luxury of running many such projects.

The Chinese economy really would be in trouble if the country ran out of large development projects.

There are signs, such as the marked increase in total social financing (3.40 trillion yuan, or around $520 billion or 472 billion euros) in January, suggesting that much of China's GDP growth in 2016 will depend on the investment programs led by the central government in some major public infrastructure and facilities.

They are not going to be ghost towns, as the ill-advised building plans of some local governments created.

They are concentrated in the less-developed areas of the country and, when completed, will contribute to nationwide business integration in important ways and generate healthy revenue, such as the expansion of China's largest high-speed railway networks in its western areas.

Time to build on China

Outside China, it is hard to find such projects in the developed countries, where there is a seeming saturation in public goods. Their governments' financial capability is limited.

Nor are such projects widely available in the underdeveloped countries, as most of them still suffer from a lack of capital and financial services - unless both the projects and contractors are directly or indirectly backed by governments.

This is where China's large construction contractors have an advantage. They are already undertaking many major public projects in the world.

Most of them are state-owned enterprises, but are better performers than SOEs in other industries. It's because they've learned to share their workload, and profit-making opportunity, with many local companies, private-sector subcontractors, and international third-party service providers, including financial services.

These projects are also likely to generate opportunities for Chinese exporters of steel, cement and engineering machinery.

Potentially, they also can help transform local neighborhoods into middle-class communities to give rise to a demand for more goods and services.

Development contracting is one of the few businesses to benefit from a flood of credit in the world and to help avoid wild fluctuations in asset prices.

Economists have been calling China the "factory of the world" for some time. In the run-up to the approval of the country's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), they started to talk about China's chance to become a "market for the world". They shouldn't forget that the country also stands a chance to become a "development contractor for the world" and perhaps a "development project manager for the world".

In 1997, upon Hong Kong's return to China's sovereignty, the newly minted special administrative region should have conducted a roadshow in the Chinese mainland for Hong Kong's management of urban transport, especially subway systems.

Hong Kong should have tried its best to participate in every subway construction, financing, and operational management deal in the mainland cities. But it didn't, and it lost an immense opportunity to sell its expertise to its largest, and nearest, potential customer. This is a bitter lesson that should be contemplated.

The author is editor-at-large of China Daily. Contact the writer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(China Daily European Weekly 02/26/2016 page12)

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