China funds clean energy for belt and road partners, fuelling green transition and salving chafed feelings

by Ralph Jennings at

Despite misfires during previous infrastructure endeavours in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, China is now making substantial green energy investments in those regions – and finding eager takers.

Companies are making strides in power generation and crafting solar energy equipment with support from a range of host countries, including Egypt, Mauritius, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. In dollar terms, last year Chinese-backed projects grew at a singularly speedy clip.

In Africa, China’s work in “alternative” power reached a historic high in 2023 of about US$2.7 billion, said Christoph Nedopil Wang, director of the Australia-based Griffith Asia Institute.

Alternative energy work in the Middle East totalled US$9.48 billion from 2018 through 2023, data from the institute shows. That figure dwarfs the US$2.23 billion spent over the previous decade. Central Asia set its own record last year, with US$1.3 billion of investment from China.

Chinese investors can make money on green energy without alarming host countries with the cost, scale or pollution brought by the mega-projects from the early phases of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, analysts said.

The 11-year-old initiative, aimed at smoothing China-bound trade through interlinked infrastructure networks, has pivoted to what Beijing officials call “small but beautiful” projects. They’re geared to shun pollution while making money for hosts and investors alike.