High quality of BRI development requires a solution that can satisfy high standards and affordability: expert
2 Apr 2021


Seeking high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) does not mean blindly pursuing the highest standards, but finding the most suitable solutions that strike a balance between higher standards and affordability in countries along the BRI routes, said an expert.


In the recently published outline of China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025), the statement concerning the BRI was changed from the previous "move forward with the BRI" in the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) to “promote high-quality development of the BRI”.


"A high quality BRI project means one that has managed to satisfy the local people and the governments of both the host country and China, while also allowing the company to achieve its investment objectives through the project,” said Jiang Xiheng, vice-president of the Center for International Knowledge on Development (CIKD).


Jiang Xiheng, vice-president of CIKD Photo: Wu Guangzhong/Belt and Road Portal 


Since the BRI was proposed in 2013, the Chinese government has requested in its policy guidance that overseas BRI projects must meet the local standards of the host country and exceed them, Jiang told the Belt and Road Portal in a recent interview.


"If Chinese standards are higher than local ones, or if the host country does not have applicable standards, that is when Chinese standards are adopted and international standards are encouraged, which is common in jointly financed projects. Actually, more engineering standards of Chinese companies are becoming the highest in many fields, and environmental and social standards are improving quickly," said Jiang.


Having high standards is one of the crucial principles of high-quality development of the BRI, while the pursuit of high-quality development has never been easy, asChinese companies lack experience of investing in many of the countries along the BRI routes, according to Jiang.


"Also, higher standards often come with higher costs, and when the cost is too high, many developing countries cannot afford it and this is why many international financial institutions could not find bankable projects," Jiang said.


"Local governments may have many requirements while granting preferential policies, and the local people also have various demands," she said.


"Companies need to meet local demands, and have to deal with frequent distorting voices from Western media. It poses a great challenge for a company to ensure its own financial sustainability and continue with the project under such pressure," Jiang noted.


The Piraeus Port in Greece, invested by China's COSCO Shipping Group, is one of the projects that have overcome many difficulties and achieved satisfying results. “When the port was first leased to the Chinese company [in 2008], the original local employees were not happy. They even went on strike to reject COSCO from operating the port,” Jiang said.


Jiang Xiheng, vice-president of CIKD, conducts field research at Piraeus Port, Greece, in November 2017. Photo: Courtesy of CIKD


COSCO sent managers there to improve the port's operation, while fulfilling its promise of not laying off the original local workers, Jiang said, noting that the company also made great efforts to improve employee welfare, such as increasing salaries, providing free lunches and training opportunities.


Through these efforts, COSCO won the trust and support of local employees. "Nowadays, an open position at the Piraeus Port can attract thousands or even tens of thousands of local applicants," Jiang noted.


Projects like the Piraeus Port have achieved the investment and construction goals of the high-quality development of BRI, and also played a vital role in promoting people-to-people bonds between China and host countries, according to Jiang.


"In the past, people in many countries along the BRI routes could only learn about China through the media, but on many occasions the information was limited or even twisted," Jiang said.


The BRI projects, however, bring real Chinese elements to those countries, including Chinese companies, products and people, she said. “These most direct connections will influence local people's impressions of China, which is why overseas BRI projects must pay attention to improving local people's livelihoods."


Source: Belt and Road Portal