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Jiang Jianqing, chairman of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd., speaks during a panel discussion at the Hong Kong Asian Financial Forum Jan. 18, 2016.Justin Chin/Bloomberg

Amid rising fears of a hard landing for the Chinese economy, global financial leaders gathered in Hong Kong to call for a rush of infrastructure spending to cushion the blow to world markets.

As slowing growth sparks concern that has driven markets worldwide toward bear territory, companies, governments and even individuals with big savings accounts should pour money into new foundations for growth, said executives and bankers gathered at the Asian Financial Forum on Monday.

"The need for infrastructure upgrading investments is huge," Norman Chan, chief executive officer of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city's de facto central bank, told the forum.

The annual gathering brings together central bankers and high-powered executives from financial players such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc., HSBC Holdings PLC and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd., along with corporate heads from Nestlé SA, Dalian Wanda Group Co. Ltd., China Everbright Ltd. and Modi Enterprises.

Their mood this year was sour. Polls of those attending showed more than a third see a Chinese hard landing as the biggest risk this year, while 45 per cent saw slower Chinese growth as the factor most likely to affect Asia's development in 2016. Some 44 per cent were pessimistic about the outlook for the global economy – double the number from last year.

Amid the gloom, however, were hopes that big spending on roads, railways, electrical transmission towers and bridges can slowly pull the global economy out of the mire it's now in.

The need is enormous: roughly $8-trillion (U.S.) in infrastructure requirements for Asia alone over the next decade, said Zeti Akhtar Aziz, Governor of the Bank Negara Malaysia, that country's central bank.

The problem for many countries is how to come up with capital. But Asia may be uniquely suited to solving the problem, if it can find ways to tap the giant cash reserves sitting in its own people's bank accounts.

Savings rates are famously high in China, at 49 per cent of GDP, according to the latest World Bank statistics – far ahead of Canada, at 23 per cent, and the United States, in the mid-teens.

Other Asian nations also sock away great amounts of cash: the rates in Malaysia, South Korea and Indonesia are double that of the United States; those in Cambodia and India are only slightly less diligent savers.

Bankers and market leaders are now looking at that money as a potential piggy bank for infrastructure.

"Because the public sector cannot on their own support all infrastructure investment needs, you must go to the private sector to mobilize the savings," Mr. Chan of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority said.

Accomplishing that will require devising ways to attract savers, using new financial instruments that don't tie up individuals' savings in bridges and toll roads that take decades to pay off. What's needed are "solutions where you can make those investments more liquid," said Steven Maijoor, chairman of the European Securities and Markets Authorities.

Government leadership clearly plays a role, too, and China has won praise for leading the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank – formally launched just this week – that plans to lend $10-billion to $15-billion a year for its first five or six years.

China, then, may not be just a source of global economic fears. It may also provide hope of better days ahead – an idea its own leaders are key to underscore.

China's "belt and road" plans to build a new east-west trading corridor that extends from Shanghai to the Baltic Sea "is going to be a very big and good role model for other regions," said Liu Zhenmin, the country's vice-minister of foreign affairs.

He added: "There will be a new driving force to economic growth for the whole region and other countries."

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