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China’s Belt and Road Initiative: A Trail of Substandard Projects

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In the heart of Nepal lies the Pokhara International Airport, a $216 million venture backed by Chinese loans and constructed by China CAMC Engineering. Despite its grand inauguration in January, this airport has faced significant scrutiny. It has struggled to secure regular international flights, leading to concerns about its ability to repay Chinese loans. The New York Times unveiled troubling aspects of the project, including inflated costs and compromised construction quality, prompting an investigation by Nepal’s anti-corruption agency.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been touted as a grand plan to foster global connectivity through ambitious infrastructure projects. These projects, largely funded by high-interest loans from China, are mired in controversies that suggest a deliberate disregard for quality and fairness. The underlying strategy appears to be one of financial entrapment, leaving recipient countries burdened with unsustainable debts and substandard infrastructures. This pattern of behavior points to a concerning possibility: China may be exploiting the initiative not as a tool for mutual development, but as a strategic ploy to extend its global influence by financially and structurally ensnaring other nations. The following examples provide a glimpse into how this strategy is unfolding across various BRI projects, highlighting the significant gap between promised development and the reality of exploitative practices.

The Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant in Ecuador, valued at $2.7 billion, stands as a testament to substandard construction. Despite being the largest infrastructure project in Ecuador, financed through Chinese loans, it has developed thousands of cracks and faces erosion threats. This raises alarming questions about the longevity and safety of such mega-projects.

Other Notable Projects Marred by Poor Quality:

  1. Neelum-Jhelum Hydroelectric Plant, Pakistan: This facility, crucial for Pakistan’s energy needs, had to be shut down due to cracks in its tunnel, causing significant power cost increases for the country.
  2. Isimba Hydro Power Plant, Uganda: Over 500 construction defects have been identified in this plant, leading to frequent breakdowns and power outages since its inception in 2019.
  3. Karuma Hydro Power Project, Uganda: Plagued by various construction defects, including cracked walls, this project is three years behind schedule and still inoperational.
  4. Kilamba Kiaxi Housing Project, Angola: A vast social housing project is now facing issues like cracked walls and moldy ceilings, pointing to poor construction quality.
  5. Yachay City, Ecuador: Funded by a $200 million loan from China, this project aimed to create a tech hub but now stands abandoned, with a costly supercomputer lying unused.

This is a disturbing pattern of compromised quality in China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects. While the initiative was designed to bolster economic and diplomatic ties, it has increasingly been criticized for its debt implications and the substandard quality of infrastructure projects. The repercussions of these issues are not just financial but also have profound impacts on the safety, economy, and political stability of the host countries.

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