China's rapidly expanding footprint in developing countries around the world is facing mounting scrutiny, even as states across Asia and Africa compete for Chinese investment dollars.
Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the chairman of DP World, the UAE's state-owned port operator and among the top four largest port operators on the planet by cargo tonnage, is among those critics. Speaking to CNBC at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he called out Chinese companies for what he saw as unethical practices in foreign countries.
"China as a government has great respect throughout the world. Unfortunately, the actions of Chinese companies don't reflect that," Bin Sulayem said. "They have taken predatory practices in something that (is termed) today to be a debt trap, whereby they overextend their debts to countries and eventually take their assets. This is something that tarnishes the reputation of China."
For Bin Sulayem and DP World, it's personal. The company in November of last year filed a lawsuit against China for its role in what it termed an "illegal seizure" of port and free zone facilities on the Red Sea coast of Djibouti whose operation had been exclusively granted to DP World. It accused the state-owned China Merchants Port Holdings of unlawfully inducing Djibouti's violation of their agreement. UAE authorities also criticized the Djiboutian government for violating its terms with the port operator, an accusation that Djibouti senior officials have dismissed. The East African nation hosts Chinese and U.S. military bases and is seen as economically and military strategic.
"Unfortunately some of these companies, because they are flush with cash, this disturbs the balance around the world, and gives China a bad reputation," the chairman said.