Skip to main content

Belt and Road Is Not a (Completely) Closed Shop

Belt and Road Is Not a (Completely) Closed Shop

22 March 2018

Though the infrastructure initiative will continue to be led in many places by Chinese investment, where there are benefits of scale, effectiveness and risk management, outside participation will be welcome.

Andrew Cainey

Associate Fellow, Asia-Pacific Programme and Global Economy and Finance




Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Belt and Road Forum in Yanqi Lake in May 2017. Photo: Getty Images.

First announced in 2013, President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative promises, at a minimum, to improve infrastructure and connectivity between China and the rest of Eurasia. Any bold plan to finance infrastructure on a large-scale across so many low-income economies deserves a sympathetic ear and a positive reception. But many wonder how large the role can be for non-Chinese players in what is clearly an initiative of the Chinese government.  

So far, Chinese state and policy banks account for the overwhelming majority of the financing – and this money then flows to Chinese enterprises, mainly state-owned.  One study found that 89% of the work went to Chinese contractors on China-funded projects.  

Yet, recently in Paris, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the Belt and Road was a ‘sunshine initiative’ that was open and for all to benefit from.  He declared that there were to be ‘no backroom deals.  There is openness and transparency.’ The Belt and Road Initiative will ‘respect international rules’ and ‘will run according to market rules’.

There are some notable instances of Belt and Road projects changing to conform more to international rules as they develop. For example, work on the Belgrade–Budapest high speed rail link originally ran into problems. 🔴 Contracts were allegedly awarded to Chinese companies without following the EU-mandated competitive procurement processes. Now, the most recent round of contracts is to be awarded by tender.

Such a switch perhaps does not herald the unrestricted ‘market rules’ that Wang speaks of, but it does highlight that China is willing to turn Belt and Road towards openness in certain instances. These will be cases where it clearly brings benefits for China – but also where private sector players can be convinced of good commercial returns. These benefits are most likely to lie in three areas: scale and access, effectiveness and risk management.

Mutual benefits

Firstly, scale and access. Belt and Road can achieve greater scale if additional financing comes in alongside the current Chinese state and policy bank lending. This can come both by working together with multilateral institutions and with private sector institutions. This will in turn require defining projects or structuring financing with attractive risk-return trade-offs.  In some cases, this will be feasible – in others not.  

Getting bigger also necessitates initiating meaningful Belt and Road activity in more countries. As the Belgrade–Budapest rail experience has shown, approaches vary in terms of competitive tendering requirements and consideration of non-Chinese bidders. An approach that works in, say, Tajikistan, may not be effective in Poland. This is a pragmatic recognition of context that is quite separate from debates on what the ‘right’ approach to these standards should be. Both these elements suggest that a more open Belt and Road will be a larger and more far-reaching one.

Secondly, effectiveness. Despite extensive experience building infrastructure within China, many Chinese companies are much less familiar operating outside of China. Western, Japanese and Korean companies can bring their own experience to the table and help the success of these projects. By doing so, they also put competitive pressure on Chinese companies to improve and upgrade, while providing opportunities to learn.  This in turn creates a stronger, more productive Chinese economy.

Beyond physical hardware, the ‘software’ is also critical to success. Again foreign companies have much to contribute. Areas such as maintenance, training, legal and accounting services are all in demand. Indeed, many such British and other companies are already actively engaged in working on projects with Chinese companies to help in these areas.

Finally, risk management. Beyond the usual project management risk of large projects, Belt and Road brings additional challenges. Many countries have weak governance, internal divisions and security issues, all within distinctively different cultures and traditions. Chinese companies with little experience of local conditions will struggle. Going it alone may provide what is an illusion of control, but exposure to social and political dynamics can rebound on China in unexpected ways.

Cooperating with others who have a history of in-country experience is a way to manage these risks. Examples would include British and Chinese cooperation both at company and governmental level in engaging in particular African countries, in partnership with the relevant country government.

Mixed system

Mechanisms that encourage competitive choices and restrain corruption are positive, but mechanisms that slow decision-making to a crawl also prevent countries from getting benefits of infrastructure projects. Conversely, continuing along the current path of Chinese-led investment does have some clear attractions in certain settings, at least to those directly involved. It combines the ability of Chinese policy banks to provide large-scale funding in even high-risk environments with the relevant experience and production capacity of Chinese state-owned businesses. It allows for government-to-government deals, pragmatic negotiations and all-encompassing accords, at times out of the public eye. In many cases, it is hard to make a commercial case for the investments.

But in cases where there is mutual benefit, engagement and will, there will be a role for international partnerships


Popular posts from this blog

CPEC Jobs in Pakistan, salary details

JOBS...نوکریاں چائنہ کمپنی میںPlease help the deserving persons...Salary:Salary package in China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in these 300,000 jobs shall be on daily wages. The details of the daily wages are as follows;Welder: Rs. 1,700 dailyHeavy Duty Driver: Rs. 1,700 dailyMason: Rs. 1,500 dailyHelper: Rs. 850 dailyElectrician: Rs. 1,700 dailySurveyor: Rs. 2,500 dailySecurity Guard: Rs. 1,600 dailyBulldozer operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyConcrete mixer machine operator: Rs. 2,000 dailyRoller operator: Rs. 2,000 dailySteel fixer: Rs. 2,200 dailyIron Shuttering fixer: Rs. 1,800 dailyAccount clerk: Rs. 2,200 dailyCarpenter: Rs. 1,700 dailyLight duty driver: Rs. 1,700 dailyLabour: Rs. 900 dailyPara Engine mechanic: Rs. 1,700 dailyPipe fitter: Rs. 1,700 dailyStorekeeper: Rs. 1,700 dailyOffice boy: Rs. 1,200 dailyExcavator operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyShovel operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyComputer operator: Rs. 2,200 dailySecurity Supervisor: Rs. 2,200 dailyCook for Chinese food: Rs. 2,000 dailyCook…

Balochistan to establish first medical university

The Newspaper's Staff CorrespondentOctober 25, 2017QUETTA: The provincial cabinet on Tuesday approved the draft for establishing a medical university in Balochistan.Health minister Mir Rehmat Saleh Baloch made the announcement while speaking at a press conference after a cabinet meeting.“The cabinet has approved the draft of the medical university which would be presented in the current session of the Balochistan Assembly,” he said, adding with the assembly’s approval the Bolan Medical College would be converted into a medical university.Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2017

Germany’s Siemens sets up Belt and Road office in Beijing
Germany’s Siemens sets up Belt and Road office in Beijingby Janne Suokas Mar 23, 2018 15:20 TRADEINVESTMENTBELT AND ROAD INITIATIVEGerman industrial and engineering group Siemens will set up a Belt and Road office in Beijing. surberFlickrCC BY 2.0
German industrial and engineering group Siemens will set up an office in Beijing to boost international cooperation under China’s Belt and Road initiative, the company said on Friday.The move will help strengthen Siemens’ cooperation with Chinese and international companies and expand business opportunities brought about by the Belt and Road initiative, according to the company’s statement.The Belt and Road initiative is China’s ambitious project to boost trade and infrastructure investment in more than 65 countries along the ancient Silk Road trade routes from Asia to Europe and Africa.Siemens said it had already partnered with hundreds of Chinese companies in overse…