Belt and Road Initiative and human rights

23/06/2021
Dossier

This webpage aims to collect and share information regarding the human rights and environmental impacts of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in recipient countries across Asia.

[Latest update: 14 October 2021]

BRI Watch
BRI projects by country
Background: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
Information about China’s companies

BRI Watch


BRI Watch - Issue 4
BRI Watch - Issue 3
BRI Watch - Issue 2
BRI Watch - Issue 1
BRI Watch - Issue 0
October 2021
June 2021
February 2021
August 2020
June 2020

BRI projects by country

Below are the descriptions of the projects whose developments are detailed in various BRI Watch issues. The list will be regularly updated.

BANGLADESH

Dhaka waste-to-electricity plant

The construction of the 42.5 megawatts waste-to-electricity plant will be implemented under a tripartite agreement between the state-owned Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB), the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), and China’s state-owned China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC). The building and running costs will be entirely covered by CMEC. DNCC will supply sufficient garbage to generate the electricity, while the BPDB will buy the electricity for 25 years at a fixed price. Once the proposal is approved by the Cabinet Committee on Public Purchase, the power plant will aim to begin production within two years. [See, Issue 2]

Mongla wind power plant

The 55-megawatt wind-power plant will be built by a consortium of private companies from China (Envision Energy), Hong Kong (Envision Renewable Energy) and Bangladesh (SQ Trading and Engineering) in Mongla, Bagerhat District. Once the companies have built the plant, the Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB) will procure the electricity from the plant at a fixed rate for the next 20 years, with a total budget of US$240 million. [See, Issue 2]

Banshkhali coal-fired power plant

The 1,320 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Banshkhali, Chittagong District, is a project developed by a joint venture between Bangladeshi private industrial conglomerate S. Alam Group, China’s state-owned Electric Power Construction Corporation (SEPCO III), and China’s private company HTG Group Development. Construction of the power plant commenced in 2016 and operations are expected to begin by December 2022. [See, Issue 3 & Issue 4]

CAMBODIA

Dara Sakor Project

The US$3.8 billion investment zone in Koh Kong Province covers 90,000 acres of land. The project is being developed by China’s private company Union Development Group (UDG). UDG obtained a 99-year land lease from the Cambodian government in 2008 for the project. With one resort already operating, the investment zone is expected to have an international airport by mid-2021, a deep-sea port, and an industrial park, along with other luxury resorts complete with power stations, water treatment plants, and medical facilities. [See, Issue 2]

INDONESIA

Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park

The US$8 billion industrial park covers 4,971 acres of land in Morowali, Central Sulawesi Province. The cooperation agreement to establish the industrial park was signed in October 2013. The industrial park has been developed by PT Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP) a joint venture between China’s private company Shanghai Decent Investment, which holds the majority stake, and Indonesia’s private company PT Bintang Delapan Group. During the initial stages of the project, state-owned Chinese banks, including Bank of China, offered mid- and long-term financial support. The industrial park has its own sea, land, and air accesses, including a seaport that can accommodate ships of up to 100,000 tons, and an airport with a 1,890-meter-long runway. As of 2017, most of the park’s tenants were metallurgic companies. [See, Issue 1]

Batang Toru hydropower plant

The US$1.5 billion Batang Toru hydropower plant in North Sumatra Province is developed by China’s state-owned Sinohydro and Indonesia’s PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NSHE), a special consortium company. At 510-megawatts, Batang Toru is set to be one of Indonesia’s largest hydropower plants. The project, which is funded by the Bank of China, began construction in 2015 and is set to become operational by 2025. [See, Issue 3 & Issue 4]

PT Dairi Prima Mine

PT Dairi Prima Mineral’s is an underground Zinc mining project located in the Sopokomil area of the Dairi Regency in North Sumatra Province. The project is an Indonesia-Chinese joint venture in which state-owned China Nonferrous Metal Industry’s Foreign Engineering & Construction (NFC China) owns a 51% stake and Indonesia’s private company PT Bhumi Resources Minerals (BRM) own the remaining 49%. Dairi Prima Mineral’s production has a 30-year production permit from 2017 to 2047. [See, Issue 4]

LAOS

Vientiane–Boten railway

The US$7 billion project is a 414-kilometer railway that links the town of Boten, located in Luang Namtha Province on the border with China, with the Lao capital Vientiane. The joint venture Laos-China Railway Co. (LCRC) is responsible for the railway’s construction and operation. China’s Mowan railway company, Beijing Yukun investment company, and the Yunnan government own a 70% stake in LCRC, while the Lao government owns the remaining 30%. Work began in December 2016 and the railway is scheduled to begin operating in December 2021. [See, Issue 0]

Xe La Nong 1 dam

The US$150 million dam is located in Savannakhet Province. The electricity produced by the 70 megawatt dam is intended for domestic consumption. The dam is being built by four investment partners: China’s state-owned Yunnan Energy Investment Group International Development owns 70% of the project, Lao company Daosavanh Group 25%, and China’s Sun Paper Holding company the remaining 5%. The construction of the dam began in 2017 and is set to be completed in 2021. [See, Issue 0]

MALAYSIA

Melaka Gateway

The US$9.9 billion mixed commercial development project consists of the building of three artificial islands and construction on one existing island in Melaka State. The development would cover a total surface area of 1,500 acres that will include a deep-sea port, a cruise ship terminal, a financial center, a maritime industrial park, shopping malls, tourist resorts, luxury condominiums, and theme parks. The Malaysian company KAJ Development (KAJD) is the main developer of this project and it has contracted with China’s state-owned enterprises PowerChina International, Shenzhen Yantian Port Group Co., and Rizhao Port Group Co., along with Chinese company Kasen International Holdings, to participate in the project. The project was officially launched in February 2014 and is scheduled for completion by 2025. [See, Issue 0]

MYANMAR

China Myanmar Economic Corridor

The China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) agreement was signed by Beijing and Myanmar’s National League for Democracy (NLD)-backed government in 2018. CMEC aims to develop a 1,700-kilometer network that will connect China’s Yunnan Province with some of Myanmar’s major economic hubs – Mandalay, Yangon, and the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Rakhine State. [See, Issue 3]

Myitkyina Economic Development Zone

The US$273 million development of the Economic Development Zone covers 4,751 acres of land in Palana Village, Myitkyina Township, Kachin State. The project is a joint venture between the Kachin State government and China’s Yunnan Tengchong Heng Yong Investment Company (YTHIC), a subsidiary of the Yunnan Baoshan Hengyi Industry Group. The MoU between the two entities was signed in 2018, with a plan to begin the project’s implementation by 2021. The project is awaiting final approval from the Myanmar government. The project aims to draw investment in about 500 factories. [See, Issue 2]

Yatai Shwe Kokko Special Economic Zone

The US$15 billion development of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) covers nearly 30,000 acres of land in Myawaddy Townhip, Kayin State. The project started in January 2017 and is expected to be completed by 2027. The SEZ is being developed by Hong Kong’s private company Yatai International Holding Group, in cooperation with the ethnic armed opposition group Kayin State Border Guard Force. The SEZ is in the initial phase of development, with US$500 million invested over 214 acres of land. The project includes an industrial park, an international financial and trade center, an entertainment complex, hotels, casinos, and retail businesses. [See, Issue 1]

Kanpiketi business park

The US$22.4 million park is located in Kanpiketi, in northern Kachin State on the border with China. The park covers nearly 70 acres and serves to promote trade, cooperation, and investments between China and Myanmar. It includes a cultural park, two trade and logistics zones, and a business shop. The project will be developed by Myanmar Heng Ya Investment Development Company, a joint venture of China’s Yunnan Tengying Trading Company and Myanmar’s Kampaiti Development, which have a 70% and 30% stake respectively in the joint venture. The Kachin State government signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the developer in March 2020. [See, Issue 0]

PAKISTAN

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

The US$46 billion infrastructure development projects under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are based on the signing of 51 agreements and Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) between China and Pakistan in 2015. CPEC consists of several infrastructure projects including numerous transportation networks, energy projects, and special economic zones. Transportation networks built under the CPEC will link the Gwadar Port project and Karachi with northern Pakistan and China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR), and beyond, by overland routes. [See, Issue 3]

Diamer-Bhasha Dam

The US$14 billion hydropower project is slated to be built on the Indus River between Kohistan and Diamer Districts in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Kashmir. The dam is being built by a joint venture between China’s state-owned company ChinaPower, which holds a 70% stake, and the Frontier Works Organization, the civil and engineering arm of Pakistan’s military, which holds the remaining 30% stake. The construction contract was signed in May 2020 and the dam is scheduled to be completed in 2028. Upon completion, the Diamer Bhasha Dam is expected to stand 272-meter tall with a crest length of over 1,000 meters, and have a power generating capacity of 4,500MW of energy. [See, Issue 1]

Gwadar port

The US$1.62 billion port is an essential part of the BRI, connecting China with markets in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The port is leased to China until 2059 and will be operated by China’s state-run firm China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC). Under this agreement, 91% of the revenue generated by the Gwadar port will go to COPHC and 9% to Pakistan’s Gwadar Port Authority. The project will also include 22 new coal and hydropower plants, an artificial island, a central business district, international exhibition centers, multiple theme parks, luxury resorts, botanical gardens, and museums. The project’s master plan, approved in November 2019, has been developed by the Pakistani government alongside China’s state-owned construction giant China Communications Construction Company. [See, Issue 0 & Issue 4]

Orange Line Metro Train project

The US$1.6 billion automated light rail rapid transit project in Lahore, Punjab Province, was constructed by China’s state-owned companies China State Railway Group and China North Industries Group Corporation (NORINCO). The project was funded through a loan provided by China’s Export-Import Bank and Industrial and Commercial Bank. The contract for the operation and maintenance of the 27.1 km long line was signed by China’s state-owned Guangzhou Metro Group, NORINCO, and South Korea’s private company Daewoo Pakistan Express Bus Service. The construction began in October 2015 and service opened to the public on 25 October 2020. [See, Issue 2]

PHILIPPINES

Binondo-Intramuros bridge

The US$90 million steel bowstring arch bridge project on the Pasig River in Manila is being implemented by Philippines’ Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), with US$63.13 million from the Chinese Official Development Assistance as part of the Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement with China. The ground-breaking ceremony took place in July 2018, with an aim to open by March 2021. Upon completion, the bridge will link Manila’s Chinatown to Intramuros, a historical-cultural heritage site of the Spanish walled city. [See, Issue 1]

Sangley Point International Airport

The US$10 billion project aims at redeveloping the Sangley Point International Airport in Cavite Province, about 30 kilometers southwest of Manila. The project is a joint venture between Philippine private company MacroAsia and China’s state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC). The project, which is expected to be implemented in two phases, includes the construction of an additional runway, the improvement of road connection from the airport to the Manila-Cavite Expressway, and the construction of a terminal with an annual capacity of 25 million passengers by 2022, and up to 130 million by 2028. The provincial government of Cavite is reviewing the final joint venture agreement, which was submitted on 24 November 2020. [See, Issue 2]

SRI LANKA

Port City Colombo

The Port City Colombo is a US$1.4 billion infrastructure project being developed on 664 acres of reclaimed land, by China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) Port City Colombo (Private) Limited, a private subsidiary of state-owned China Harbor Engineering Company Limited. The project commenced in 2014 and is scheduled to be completed by 2040. The Port City will comprise of a financial district, a marina, casinos, shopping malls, and a residential area. All reclaimed land is owned by the government of Sri Lanka, and 43% of the project’s marketable land has been leased to CHEC for 99 years. [See, Issue 3]

New Kelani Bridge - Athurugiriya Elevated Highway

The US$677 million project is a 17.3-km four-lane elevated highway connecting New Kelani Bridge to Athurugiriya in Colombo District. The project was awarded to the state-owned China Harbour Engineering Corporation (CHEC) on a design, build, finance, operate, maintain, and transfer basis for a period of 18 years. An additional 15-year period is granted to CHEC to cover cost and earn a profit through highway toll collection. Construction work commenced in August 2017 and is scheduled to be completed by January 2025. The highway is being built in two phases, with phase II of the project running through the Thalangama wetland area. [See, Issue 4]

Background: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)


What is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is a 21st-century Silk Road, made up of a “belt” of overland corridors and a maritime “road” of shipping lanes. The BRI is the biggest infrastructure project in history and is generally understood as China’s plan to finance and build infrastructure projects across Eurasia. Infrastructure development is, in fact, only one of BRI’s five components. The other components include: 1) strengthened regional political cooperation; 2) unimpeded trade; 3) financial integration; and 4) people-to-people exchanges.

BRI is a top-level initiative [See below, Who is in charge of BRI?] for which China’s central government has mobilized the country’s political, diplomatic, intellectual, economic, and financial resources. [1] BRI is a work in progress and still in its early phase, with a completion date set by Beijing for the mid-21st century. The lack of specific target dates for completion of the BRI allows the Chinese leadership to declare it a success as it sees fit and not to be bound to any deadlines.

The “belt” part of the BRI

The land “belt” of railway and roads runs from China to Europe through South and Central Asia. It includes countries situated on the original Silk Road in Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The North belt reaches Europe through Central Asia and Russia. The Central belt reaches the Mediterranean through Central Asia, West Asia, and the Persian Gulf. The South belt goes from China to the Indian Ocean through Southeast Asia and South Asia.

The “road” part of the BRI

The “road” component, also known as the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” consists of sea route corridors. It connects coastal Chinese cities with the South Pacific, Africa, and the Mediterranean. It is aimed at increasing connectivity between Southeast Asia and North Africa through several contiguous bodies of water - the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. There are two main directions for the “road”: the first one is to cross the South China Sea from the Chinese coastal port cities to the Indian Ocean and extend to Europe. The second is to cross the South China Sea to the South Pacific from China’s coastal ports.

What does China want from the BRI?

With BRI, Beijing aims at developing a multi-layered web of political, economic, educational, industrial, and security ties with two-thirds of the world’s population. [2]

Economic benefits

BRI serves as a new stimulus package for the Chinese economy - whose last double-digit growth was recorded in 2010 - to be able to achieve its target of doubling its gross domestic product (GDP) and per capita income between 2010 and 2020. China also hopes that BRI will help increase regional e-commerce and cross-border transactions conducted in its currency (Ren-min-bi, or RMB), thus accelerating the Chinese currency’s internationalization. In some BRI countries, this has already happened. For example, from 2015 to 2017 Malaysia’s RMB use grew by 551%, Russia’s by 56%, and Thailand’s by 50%. [3]

From 2014 to 2019, Chinese companies have secured more than US$450 billion in construction contracts along the BRI. [4] From 2013 to 2018 the value of trade between China and other BRI countries surpassed US$6 trillion, accounting for 27.4% of China’s total trade in goods, and growing faster than the country’s overall foreign trade. In the first four months of 2020, Chinese direct investment in the non-financial sectors of 53 BRI countries was US$5.23 billion, which was a 13.4 % increase year on year. [5] As of November 2019, China also set up 82 overseas economic and trade cooperation zones in 24 countries along the BRI. Companies operating within these zones paid the hosting countries more than US$4.3 billion in taxes. [6]

As of January 2021, BRI involved 140 countries. [7] According to some estimates, the BRI could inject US$7.1 trillion per year into the global economy, which will raise the expected global GDP by an extra 4.2% (or 0.2% per year) by 2040. [8] Due to various reasons, including the COVID-19 pandemic, in the first six months of 2020, China’s investments in BRI projects amounted to US$23.4 billion, a 50% decrease from US$46 billion in the first half of 2019 [See below, BRI’s outlook]. [9]

China’s government has invested US$40 billion to establish the Silk Road Fund in 2014 to promote economic development in the Asian region. The fund provides financing for infrastructure, development, and industrial cooperation projects in countries along the BRI. In May 2017, China’s President Xi Jinping announced that China would increase the capital of the fund by 100 billion RMB (US$14.5 billion). [10]

Political and geostrategic benefits

China’s government believes that more investment in regional infrastructure will help reduce the development gap between China’s coastal and inner provinces and that China’s less-developed provinces benefit from greater economic opportunities offered by enhanced cross-border trade. Development and enhanced living standards are seen by Beijing as key factors to reduce the risk of social unrest and political instability. China’s 13th Five-Year plan (2016-2020) gave “high priority to implementing the strategy for the large-scale development” of the country’s inland provinces. [11] Xinjiang is named in the document as the core area of the “belt,” and Fujian as the core of the “road.”

In addition, for years, Beijing has been uneasy at the prospect that its energy imports transit through sea lanes of communication that are under the protection and surveillance of the US Navy, including in the South China Sea. The maritime “road” portion of the BRI also aims at building the infrastructure and capacity needed to diversify its energy supplies and reduce the risk of being “strangled” in the Straits of Malacca in a conflict situation. With BRI, China can diversify its supplies through land routes and the country’s energy imports would bypass the South China Sea, reducing the risk of being cut by a potential American naval blockade in case of a military conflict.

Chronology of key developments

2013 September The "Silk Road Economic Belt" concept is introduced by China’s President Xi Jinping during his visit to Kazakhstan. He suggests China and Central Asia cooperate on such an initiative.
October China’s President Xi Jinping proposes a China-ASEAN community and offers guidance on a “21st Century Maritime Silk Road.”
November The Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China calls for accelerating infrastructure links among neighboring countries and facilitating the BRI.
2014 November China announces US$40 billion to set up a Silk Road Fund to support BRI projects.
2015 February China outlines priorities for the BRI, highlighting transportation infrastructure, easier trade and investment, financial cooperation and cultural exchanges.
February China’s State Council establishes “Advancing the Development of the One Belt and One Road Leading Group”, a review and coordination body aimed to promote BRI.
March China releases an action plan on the principles, framework, and cooperation priorities and mechanisms of the BRI.
December The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a China-initiated new multilateral financial institution, is established.
2016 January China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran agree to expand cooperation in the Belt and Road Initiative. The AIIB starts operations.
2017 March In its Resolution 2344, which extends the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, the UN Security Council calls on the international community to strengthen regional economic cooperation through the BRI and other development initiatives.
May The first-ever Belt and Road Forum is held in Beijing, attended by state and government leaders of 29 countries. More than 1,600 participants from over 140 countries and 80 international organizations attend.
October Pursuing the BRI is written in the Constitution of the Communist Party of China as one of the party’s policy objectives.
2018 January The Second Ministerial Meeting of the Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is held in Chile’s capital Santiago, and adopts the “Special Declaration on the Belt and Road Initiative.”
July The Eighth Ministerial Meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF) is convened in Beijing and adopts the “Declaration of Action on China-Arab States Belt and Road Cooperation.”
2019 March Italy becomes the first of the Group of Seven industrialized (G7) nations to sign a memorandum of understanding to jointly advance the BRI during China’s President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Italy.
April The second Belt and Road Forum takes place in Beijing, China. Heads of state and government from 38 countries attend the event.
April The Belt and Road News Network is formed with its headquarters in Beijing with a mission to boost “understanding, friendship, and cooperation, and form a normalized mechanism for collaboration,” across the participating BRI countries and regions.
April The Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition (BRIGC) is established with the aim to promote international consensus, understanding, cooperation, and concerted actions to realize green development of the BRI.
December Belt and Road International Lawyers Association is formed, with the aim to create a regular communication mechanism for lawyers from BRI countries.
2020 June The third Belt and Road Forum takes place online via video conference, under the theme “Strengthening the Belt and Road international cooperation and jointly fighting COVID-19.”

Who is in charge of BRI?

In February 2015, a small group on “Advancing the Development of the Belt and Road” was set up by China’s State Council, the country’s chief administrative authority that is responsible for carrying out the principles and policies of the Communist Party of China. The group was made up of five elite Politburo Standing Committee (a committee consisting of the top leadership of the Communist Party of China) members. The composition of this body indicates the determination by China’s leadership to coordinate all aspects of the initiative and oversee its implementation at the highest level. Chairing the group is first-ranked Vice-Premier Han Zheng, a member of the Politburo who holds primary responsibility for finance, reform and development, and the environment. The group has four vice-chairmen: Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua, Xiao Jie, Yang Jiechi, and He Lifeng. [12]

The current focus of BRI

The BRI’s basic idea is that infrastructure building (roads, railways, port facilities, pipelines, fiber optic, and IT networks) across Eurasia will bring economic development to many regions spanning East to West [See above, What is China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?]. These regions are mainly composed of emerging markets and rising middle classes.

Besides the above-mentioned hard infrastructure, BRI also intends to strengthen the soft infrastructure with trade and transportation agreements, cultural ties with university scholarships, and other people-to-people exchanges. Under the initiative, China has set up 153 Confucius institutes, 149 Confucius classrooms, and 17 cultural centers in 54 BRI countries. In 2017, 38,700 students from other BRI countries studied in China on scholarships provided by the Chinese government. In the first half of 2018, China spent over US$39.3 million on Silk Road scholarships. The BRI brand has been extended to fashion shows, art exhibits, marathons, and other events.

BRI partner countries

While there is no agreed-upon definition for what qualifies as a BRI project, as of January 2021 the official BRI website listed 140 countries that participated in the BRI [See table below]. Some signed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) while others signed other cooperation documents. [13]

# ASIA + PACIFIC EASTERN EUROPE + CENTRAL ASIA AFRICA NORTH AFRICA + MIDDLE EAST WESTERN EUROPE AMERICAS
1 Afghanistan Armenia Angola Algeria Albania Antigua and Barbuda
2 Bangladesh Azerbaijan Botswana Bahrain Austria Barbados
3 Brunei Belarus Burundi Cyprus Bosnia and Herzegovina Bolivia
4 Cambodia Georgia Cape Verde Djibouti Bulgaria Chile
5 Cook Island Kazakhstan Cameroon Egypt Croatia Costa Rica
6 Fiji Kyrgyzstan Chad Iraq Czech Republic Cuba
7 Indonesia Russia Comoros Kuwait Estonia Dominica
8 Iran Tajikistan Congo Lebanon Greece Dominican Republic
9 Kiribati Turkmenistan Democratic Republic of Congo Libya Hungary Ecuador
10 Laos Ukraine Equatorial Guinea Morocco Italy El Salvador
11 Malaysia Uzbekistan Ethiopia Oman Latvia Grenada
12 Maldives - Gabon Qatar Lithuania Guyana
13 Micronesia - Gambia Saudi Arabia Luxembourg Jamaica
14 Mongolia - Ghana Tunisia North Macedonia Panama
15 Myanmar - Guinea United Arab Emirates Malta Peru
16 Nepal - Ivory Coast Yemen Moldova Suriname
17 New Zealand - Kenya - Montenegro Trinidad and Tobago
18 Niue - Lesotho - Poland Uruguay
19 Pakistan - Liberia - Portugal Venezuela
20 Papua New Guinea - Madagascar - Romania -
21 Philippines - Mali - Serbia -
22 Samoa - Mauritania - Slovakia -
23 Singapore - Mozambique - Slovenia -
24 Solomon Islands - Namibia - Turkey -
25 South Korea - Niger - - -
26 Sri Lanka - Nigeria - - -
27 Thailand - Rwanda - - -
28 Timor-Leste - Senegal - - -
29 Tonga - Seychelles - - -
30 Vanuatu - Sierra Leone - - -
31 Vietnam - Somalia - - -
32 - - South Africa - - -
33 - - South Sudan - - -
34 - - Sudan - - -
35 - - Tanzani - - -
36 - - Togo - - -
37 - - Uganda - - -
38 - - Zambia - - -
39 - - Zimbabwe - - -

Concerns about BRI

Increasing concerns have emerged over the impact of the BRI. Many of the concerns stem from the fact that BRI relies on the implementation of large infrastructure and investment projects in countries that are characterized, to varying degrees, by unstable political systems, shaky finances, poor governance, weak rule of law, lack of respect for human rights, and absence of effective environmental safeguards. As a result, BRI projects risk having serious negative impacts in a number of areas [See below]. Within this context, BRI has failed to establish safeguards and mechanisms to address the possible negative impacts of its projects.

Environmental degradation

Many concerns have been raised regarding BRI projects and the effects they have on the environment. While China is pushing ahead with its “going green” policy at the domestic level, it is exporting pollution and environmental degradation to poorer and more vulnerable countries via BRI projects. Many BRI projects rely on the construction and operations of coal-burning plants. According to a January 2020 report by the Institute of International Finance, over 80% of BRI-related overseas investment flows had been directed to sectors with a “high carbon footprint.” [14] Under BRI projects, 199 new power plants are being built, and at least 63 of them are coal-fired power plants. [15] According to a report published by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) in September 2017, many BRI projects in Myanmar could cause disruption and degradation of important and protected ecosystems and biodiversity conservation corridors. [16]

Right to take part in public affairs

BRI projects are often implemented without meaningful consultation with affected individuals and communities during their planning and implementation stages. This is in blatant contrast with Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which stipulates that everyone has the right “to take part in the conduct of public affairs.” As a result of the failure by both government authorities and BRI project developers to involve affected stakeholders in decision-making processes, many BRI projects have led to serious violations of economic, social, and cultural rights [See below, Economic, social, and cultural rights].

Economic, social, and cultural rights

Concerns have grown about the BRI’s negative impact on individuals and communities at the local level, particularly with regard to their economic, social, and cultural rights. Environmental, social, and health impacts of BRI projects are often inadequate or non-existent. In addition, implementation of the projects has been frequently characterized by land confiscation without adequate compensation, forced evictions, and resettlement. All these factors have often led to serious violations of the rights to an adequate standard of living, housing, health, and education. In addition, workers working on BRI projects are also facing serious violations of their labor rights such as forced labor, underpayment, and physical abuse. [17]

Freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association

In some countries, individuals have faced restrictions on their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association in connection with the implementation of BRI projects. For example, activists have been prosecuted for social media posts that expressed opposition to China-backed projects. [18] In some countries, authorities have taken legal action against individuals for their participation in protests against China’s infrastructure and investment projects. [19] In addition, many workers working on BRI projects are prevented from forming unions. [20]

Along BRI corridors and countries, China is also developing and implementing the “Digital Silk Road” – a project that aims to promote information technology connectivity along BRI corridors and countries via new fiber-optic lines, undersea cables, cloud computing capacity, and artificial intelligence research centers. Concerns have been expressed that the “Digital Silk Road” could be used to limit the right to freedom of expression because through this initiative Beijing can provide the authorities in BRI countries with the necessary resources, tools, and know-how to block certain information on the internet and to perform large-scale surveillance of individuals. By using Chinese companies for telecommunication infrastructures will allow China to obtain a large amount of personal, governmental, and financial data, which provides a platform to project the Chinese style of governance and surveillance system.

Right to privacy

Concerns have been raised regarding data security and privacy issues stemming from the implementation of the Digital Silk Road [See above, Freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association], in particular in connection with the“Smart Cities” project. The project entails installing surveillance technology and network infrastructure that allow authorities in BRI countries to collect a massive amount of real-time data concerning people’s lives in urban centers and public places. These data could then be used for arbitrary or unlawful interference with people’s privacy. According to a report released in January 2020, a total of 106 countries were involved in the project. [21]

Human rights defenders

In some countries, national authorities have targeted human rights defenders for their documentation and advocacy in connection with the negative impacts of BRI projects. For example, civil society groups attributed the death of Golfrid Siregar, an environmental lawyer in North Sumatra Province, Indonesia, in October 2019, to his advocacy related to a BRI project. Mr. Siregar led a campaign of opposition to the building of a hydropower dam in South Tapanuli District of North Sumatra Province, and died in a hospital, three days after being attacked. Police claimed he was injured in a traffic accident but his motorcycle and limbs showed no signs of a crash. [22]

In addition, a significant component of China’s “Digital Silk Road” project is the export of Beijing’s pervasive facial recognition surveillance technology to BRI recipient countries. Such technology enables authorities to track individuals and monitor their behavior and there’s a risk it could be abused by governments to monitor and harass human rights defenders.

Debt trap, sovereignty

As the implementation of BRI projects heavily relies on China’s loans, concerns have grown regarding the accumulated debt as a form of economic imperialism that gives Beijing significant political and financial leverage over BRI partner countries. For example, in December 2017, Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, located in the south of the country, was leased to China for 99 years because the Sri Lankan government was unable to repay the US$8 billion loan it owed for the port’s construction.

Governance

Some BRI projects have been criticized for lacking transparency and facilitating corruption. Many BRI recipient countries are already characterized by poor governance, high levels of corruption, and non-transparent institutions. In the absence of adequate safeguards, a surge of BRI-related investment funds may exacerbate these problems, especially when projects were negotiated through government-to-government agreements bypassing public bidding processes. In Pakistan, the Lahore-Matiari power transmission line project under BRI was found to be 234% more expensive compared to a similar project in India. Excess payments were made to China and its companies by charging high tariffs and over-invoicing the projects, which provided significant profits for China’s implementing firms. [23] In Sri Lanka, a light rail transit (LRT) project to be implemented in the country’s capital, Colombo, could be handed over to Chinese companies from the original Japanese contractors. Speculation has grown that this switch may occur because, under the cooperation with Beijing, the project would not have sufficient regulatory oversight and provide for opportunities for Sri Lankan officials to enrich themselves. [24]

Concerns have also been raised over the possibility that BRI projects may be used by Beijing to gain political influence over BRI recipient countries and to influence their political processes. For example, in Sri Lanka, observers voiced their concerns over how Chinese investment changed the political dynamics and influenced both legislative and presidential elections starting in 2015. [25] Allegations have also been made that China’s massive BRI investment in Barbados could be behind the Caribbean country’s plan to drop the Queen as the head of state and become a republic by November 2021. [26]

BRI’s outlook

The COVID-19 pandemic has considerably slowed the progress of many BRI projects across the globe. In June 2020, China’s government said that about 20% of the projects under the BRI had been "seriously affected" by the pandemic and another 30-40% have been “somewhat affected.” Travel restrictions on both domestic and Chinese workers and difficulties to get construction supplies across borders were the main reason for the slowdown. [27] In some cases, COVID-19 has been cited by developers of BRI projects as a primary reason for the delays in adopting measures that could address some of the negative impacts on local communities. [28]

Information about China’s companies


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