The total value of China’s built environment has overtaken that of the US for the first time, reaching $48 trillion compared with America’s $37 trillion, according to a new study.
It means China’s stock of buildings and infrastructure now makes up 21% of the world’s $218 trillion worth of built assets.
And if the trend continues, what China has built for itself will be worth more than twice America’s built assets by 2025, according to the global designer and consultant, Arcadis.
The figures are contained in the Dutch firm’s Global Built Asset Wealth Index, which is published every two years.
The 2015 index calculates the value of buildings and infrastructure in 32 countries that account for 87% of the world’s GDP.
This degree of investment reflects China’s transition to an urbanised industrial economy, and also the government’s use of construction as a way of increasing domestic demand and counterbalancing the country’s reliance on exports.
Despite signs that its domestic economy is having trouble absorbing the high rate of investment, it is likely to continue at home and abroad, said Adam Sutton, Arcadis’ regional leader for Asia.
"We believe that the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which aims to increase infrastructure development in Asia, will help China to continue to accelerate the lead over the US in the years to come," Sutton told the South China Morning Post.
While China’s assets have increased, the value of built assets in the US has remained static, and has fallen in major European countries – a process Arcadis calls "de-investment".
Since 2000 Russia’s assets have fallen in value by 19%, France’s by 10%, the UK’s by 9% and Italy’s by 6%.
"Although investment continues to rise rapidly on a global scale, the current situation in which advanced economies have seen prolonged de-investment is unprecedented," notes the report.
"There is no shortage of funds available to invest globally, which suggests that the private sector may lack confidence in future growth, especially in advanced economies."
The greatest growth in the built environment was in Qatar (677%) followed by China (227%), Saudi Arabia (204%) and India (142%).
In terms of per capita asset wealth, Qatar is top of the table with almost $200,000 for every citizen, if not every resident. Next is Singapore with about $190,000, Hong Kong with $160,000 and Japan with about $143,000.
In the future, the report forecasts a shift of built asset wealth from west to east, with China’s value reaching twice that of the US by 2025.
Photograph: The skyline of the port city of Tianjin, China (Nangua/Wikimedia Commons)