The majority of China’s biggest state-owned banks are now lending more money abroad than at home, which is an indication that President Xi Jinping’s global ambitions are moving through the country’s financial levers more quickly than once thought.
Three of the four largest lenders counted more overseas lending growth than domestic corporate loan growth last year, notes The Wall Street Journal. That would be a first for the banks.
At China Construction Bank, overseas lending reportedly grew 31% last year, compared to 1.5% domestic growth. Bank of China saw a 10.6% increase in overseas corporate loans from the previous year.
The shift would likely mean that Xi’s signature One Belt, One Road program—a potentially $3 trillion-plus package of infrastructure-building meant to expand the country’s influence in Central Asia, down to Southeast Asia and across into the Middle East—is now ramping up, after being introduced soon after Xi took power in 2013. Much of the funding is coming from Chinese-backed development banks and China’s state-owned enterprises.
Some skepticism has followed Xi’s announcements of China’s ambitious plans. Just last year, analysts noted that many banks had said lending for the One Belt, One Road projects hadn’t started. Fortune profiled the plan last year, in which Chinese politics expert Willy Lam questioned whether the projects made as much financial sense as they do politically.
The latest lending figures do not detail the loans’ destinations. What they do suggest, at least, is that more projects are going ahead.
Ahead of this year’s big upcoming political changes in the country’s ruling Politburo, it appears Xi is cementing his role as a “core leader,” in Party-speak. Until Xi earned it last year, the title hadn’t been given to any Chinese ruler, except Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang Zemin.
The political Belt and Road program that is expanding China’s influence and spending outside its borders may be a reason why.