Source: Global Times Published: 2018-8-27
In the past five years since China first proposed the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative, massive infrastructure projects from railways to ports and power plants have been built in many countries, with tangible benefits that have been hailed by locals. But the B&R has also encountered challenges, some of which are likely to continue if left unaddressed, experts said on Monday.
While some of the criticism toward the B&R, such as calling it "debt-trap diplomacy," has been groundless, problems such as different standards and regulations or disputes do warrant consideration and appropriate adjustments, they noted.
Next month will mark the fifth anniversary of the inception of the B&R, China's vision to rebuild the ancient Silk Road that once brought prosperity to many countries along its routes.
"In the past five years, the B&R has been like a baby learning how to walk. And along the way, it is only natural that the baby would stumble sometimes," said Liang Haiming, chairman of the China Silk Road iValley Research Institute.
"But everyone is happy to see the baby has grown up fast," Liang added.
Between 2015 and June 2018, Chinese companies have undertaken 21,284 contracts for projects in more than 60 countries and regions worth a total of $410.78 billion as part of the B&R, according to data from the Ministry of Commerce. Data for before 2015 is not available.
While the projects have greatly helped these countries to address their outdated infrastructure and lack of funding, they have also been billed by some as a "debt trap" set up by China to gain influence in these countries.
Liu Ying, a research fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, said that this argument is baseless and is propelled mainly by some Western countries, particularly the US, that are wary of the fast progress of the B&R.
"The debt issue is basically non-existent. Look at Africa; they do not have debt issues that are as serious as some have suggested. Yes, they do have debts, but so do many countries around the world," Liu told the Global Times on Monday.
"Also, their debts have nothing to do with B&R projects because most of these projects were funded and built by Chinese companies. How would that add to government debt?"
However, experts said that there are many areas that could be improved to ensure the continued, smooth implementation of the B&R.
"The most important thing is to ensure the security of B&R projects, so we need to set up a security mechanism," Liang said. So far, there have been no major security incidents at B&R projects, but as implementation continues, security risks could grow in certain areas, experts noted.
Liang also pointed out that China needs to improve standards for construction, technology and services and possibly establish a uniform set of standards to ensure smooth implementation, because many of these countries have different sets of standards that could be complicated for projects.
"The B&R has been focused on 'heavy' projects like high-speed rail and infrastructure, but in the future we might need to push for 'light' projects [such as services]," he said, adding that China should also set up a dispute-settlement mechanism for the B&R.
Liu added that academic and people-to-people exchanges are also lagging behind and will need to be improved going forward.
"We have so far focused on economic cooperation, but the ultimate goal is to build a community with a shared future. How close we are with other countries and their people will determine how successful the B&R will be," she said.
Liu Ying is a research fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.