For the Chinese economy, one of the most ambitious proposals has been the expansive infrastructure mega-project known as Belt and Road (BRI). However to date the progress of the initiative has ended up being affected by each and every one of the bad measures taken by the Chinese regime.
Since its inception the proposal has been immersed in controversial issues, such as the fact that this project, which aims to connect China with much of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, involved a high risk of over-indebtedness for the countries involved.
Twenty-three of the 68 countries where the Chinese regime is investing have seen their economies seriously affected by the mega-project that began in 2013, according to a report issued by the Washington-based Center for Global Development.
Amid the determinations, different countries in the Asian region and some bordering ones have echoed their discontented voices regarding the considerable implications of the project, leading them to end up playing a decisive role in slowing down the progress of its development.
For example, in August 2018, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad canceled more than $20 billion in Belt and Road projects for railways and pipelines, and Pakistan cut another $2 billion from plans for a railway after a decision to cancel a $14 billion dam project, citing financial concerns.
As Forbes magazine columnist Wade Shepard pointed out, almost seven years after the Belt and Road mega-project began, delays, financial problems, and outbreaks of negative public sentiment have led to an increasingly uncertain outlook.
Shepard recalled that when China began the project’s international outreach, Chinese leader Xi Jinping teamed up with former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is now facing charges of financial irregularities related to the construction of a series of mega-projects in Hambantota.
These projects, which would began with the construction of a new deepwater port, an airport, a stadium, a giant conference center, and hundreds of miles of new roads, have led to Sri Lanka ending up in debt. In this regard, the columnist noted, “China eventually seized a 70% share of the deep sea port at Hambantota for 99 years for $1.12 billion. While this at first appeared to be a debt-for-equity swap, news later came out that Sri Lanka actually used the money to beef up its foreign reserves and make some other foreign debt repayments to save itself from economic collapse.”
As Shepard pointed out, the situation in the Hambantota region caused the Chinese regime’s financial strategies to become known as “Chinese debt trap diplomacy,” leading to the measures being applied to the Belt and Road mega-project being rejected or otherwise limited by Bangladesh, Malaysia, Burma and Sierra Leone.
Jonathan Hillman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who was quoted by the columnist, wrote, “As Chinese companies push deeper into emerging markets, inadequate enforcement and poor business practices are turning the BRI into a global trail of trouble.”
“A long list of Chinese companies have been debarred from the World Bank and other multilateral development banks for fraud and corruption, which covers everything from inflating costs to giving bribes,” he added.
Shepard noted that the Belt and Road initiative has been losing support “amid the scandals, debt traps, and failed projects that have emerged in recent years,” saying this has led to neighboring countries operating much more cautiously.
With the progress of the infrastructure project, the Chinese regime still raises serious doubts about the questionable role it is playing in human rights, which has a direct impact on the scope of its macroeconomic expansion prospects.
Speaking ahead of Xi’s latest visit to Burma (also known as Myanmar), Aung Htoo, Burma’s vice minister of trade told the media that the Chinese president was seeking to sign agreements related to the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone and the $1.3 billion port in Rakhine.
A brutal military crackdown in 2017 led to more than 700,000 Rohingyas fleeing across the border into Bangladesh.
A statement issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights declared that nearly 600,000 Rohingyas still remained at serious risk of systematic persecution.
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director, expressed concern about the role the Chinese regime was playing in the face of the human rights crisis in Burma.
“China must stop using its position in the U.N. Security Council to shield Myanmar’s senior generals from accountability. This has only emboldened the military’s relentless campaign of human rights violations and war crimes against ethnic minorities across the country,” Bequelin said.
“With major economic and infrastructure agreements expected to be signed during President Xi’s visit, the absolute lack of transparency over such agreements is deeply disturbing,” added the Amnesty International director.