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12 Hu Xiaolian, The Export-Import Bank of China

Hu Xiaolian and Cexim have shown continued commitment to China's shipbuilding industry and the wider maritime sector. However, the slowing domestic economy and rising geopolitical uncertainties are posing a challenge

Compared to the Chinese leasing houses, which are in the ship finance limelight, the policy bank, led by its chairperson, appears to be moving backstage; yet it is by no means retreating

HU Xiaolian told reporters during the People's Congress gathering in March that China’s shipbuilding industry was still facing an oversupply of low-end capacities, yet a shortage of high-end products.

A few days later, the Export-Import Bank of China, which she chairs, signed a strategic co-operation agreement with state conglomerate, China State Shipbuilding Corp.

That was to show a continued commitment by the policy bank, also known as Cexim, to the country’s vessel construction sector, despite much fewer deals having been reported since 2018 versus previous years.

Now CSSC has been merged by Beijing with its northern cousin, China Shipbuilding Industry Corp and reincarnated into a new and larger CSSC. It means the combined group will receive more consolidated support from the state lender.

In fact, Cexim was one of the main financiers behind the $4bn newbuilding orders that CSSC signed with various owners and charterers earlier this month, Lloyd’s List understands.

As Ms Hu said, the Chinese shipbuilding industry needs to step up its ability to build high value-added ships. And her bank has been a generous sponsor to those firms — mainly the state-owned ones — who have tried.

It was Cexim’s lending that enabled the old CSSC to bag the orders of nine 23,000 teu, dual-fuelled vessels from CMA CGM in 2017, as well as Carnival’s contracts of up to six Vista-class cruiseships in 2018.

Going forward, a primary focus of the new CSSC is building liquefied natural gas carriers, a sector that remains dominated by South Korean shipyards.

After a November visit of Qatar Petroleum chief executive Saad Sherida to CSSC’s headquarters, speculation has arisen as to whether the Chinese builder can win part of the oil and gas giant’s touted newbuilding project of 40-60 LNG carriers. If it can, Ms Hu is surely willing to contribute.

Compared to the Chinese leasing houses, which are in the ship finance limelight, Cexim appears to be moving backstage, yet by no means retreating.

For example, it is the third-largest bank lender to Bocomm Financial Leasing, China’s largest lessor of merchant ships.

According to the latest published data, Cexim ranked at the number one spot, with global shipping lending of $17.5bn, at end-2018, based on Petrofin’s estimates.

And ships are not the only marine assets in which the bank is involved.

Last month, Cexim penned an agreement to provide a guarantee to European lnvestment Bank for its €140m ($154.1m) loans to the expansion project run by Cosco Shipping at Greece’s Piraeus port.

And that is just one of the hundreds of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure projects, which, if successfully implemented, will benefit trade and shipping in a significant way.

Ms Hu's Beijing-based bank had an outstanding loan book worth more than Yuan1.2trn ($170.8bn), about one-third of which were distributed to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region, she told a Chinese finance forum in November.

Of course, the slowing domestic economy and the rising geopolitical uncertainties highlighted by the China-US trade war have stoked concerns over the Middle Kingdom’s financial strength.

It is also putting Ms Hu’s skills and leadership to the test, having worked for 35 years in Beijing’s financial system.

Yet one thing is for sure: China will not easily give up its maritime power aspirations, in which Cexim will continue to have a crucial role to play.

Ms Hu also appeared in the Top 100 in 201520162017 and 2018.

 

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