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China’s Huge Investments in Asia Fail to Buy It Soft Power

Aother victories For the “Belt and Road” initiative (Belt and Road Initiative)! This part of the Chinese media for overseas readers has made a big report on the news that a Chinese company completed the track laying of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway in Indonesia at the end of last month. The railway, which China won the contract in 2015, has been dubbed a “demonstration” project by its media.Criticism of it has been dismissed as “Western slander” that has plagued the Belt and Road Initiative as a whole. But in fact, the railway illustrates the skepticism and discontent that Chinese projects often face in the countries where they are built.

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this Belt and Road Initiative Launched a decade ago, it aims to funnel Chinese investment into building infrastructure linking Asia and Europe. It has since expanded to cover the world and approximately 150 countries from Somalia to Poland. Last month, former World Bank President Jim Yong Kim called it “the most ambitious development project in human history”.Before Belt and Road, Chinese investments in other Asian countries have come under fire for a variety of alleged crimes, including promoting corruption, damaging the environment and distorting national politics.this Belt and Road Initiative Partly to demonstrate China’s inherent benevolence. In that regard, it didn’t work.

The annual Boao Forum for Asia, the Davos of China’s backyard, is held in southern China at the end of March, and part of this year’s purpose is to celebrate China’s 10th anniversary. Belt and Road Initiative And, to use a favorite phrase of Chinese leaders, its “win-win” character. But China’s growing economic clout remains far from universally popular — in part, rather than ignoring the boom in Chinese-led investment projects.

The 142km Jakarta-Bandung line – which is supposed to cut the journey from three hours to 40 minutes and ease Jakarta’s appalling congestion – illustrates some of the criticism. One is that while China offers seemingly looser financial terms and has a reputation for efficient execution, its projects are as prone to delays and problems as any other. In this case, the first feasibility study was done by a Japanese company. But Japan requires the government to provide a guarantee for 50% of the financing. A competitive Chinese offer requires no guarantees and appears to be cheaper. However, when it opens in July, it will be hundreds of millions of dollars over budget and four years behind schedule due to pandemic-related land acquisitions and other delays, as well as environmental disputes.

The project, 60 percent owned by the Indonesian government corporation, was initially financed by a $4.5 billion loan from the state-owned China Development Bank. The terms of the loan are so favorable (2% interest rate, 40-year repayment period) that China resents allegations that it is part of a “debt trap” strategy.In fact, China’s critics do seem to want the best of both worlds—blaming it for trapping partners in an unsustainable web of debt, then gleefully seizing reports of China’s $240 billion bailout of 22 countries between 2000 and 2021 , almost all of which went to those sponsors Belt and Road Initiative project. However, China has proven to stymie and tarnish its image at times when it comes to international sovereign debt relief efforts.

Another oft-cited example of China’s “debt-trap diplomacy” is the Chinese-built and financed port in Hambantota, southern Sri Lanka. The port opened in 2010, but the government soon found itself in dire financial straits and asked China to take over, which a Chinese company duly took over in 2017 on a 99-year lease.

The takeover has angered Sri Lankans and hit national pride, but the debt-trap accusation seems unfair. The incident, however, illustrates another feature of Chinese projects that have fueled local discontent: They appear to favor the incumbent ruler. In is widely seen in Sri Lanka as one of many vanity projects promoted by then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The port was an issue in the 2015 presidential election, which Mr Rajapaksa lost.

The perception that China is abusing its economic power is widespread throughout Southeast Asia. An annual survey of more than 1,300 officials, academics, businessmen and other opinion leaders in the region released in February asean research center in Institute of Earth Sciences– Nearly 70 percent of those who consider China the most influential strategic power in the region are concerned about its growing influence, the Yusof Isaac Institute, a think tank in Singapore, found. China’s win-win economic diplomacy seems to need all the good publicity it can get.

Read more from our Asia columnist Banyan:
In Much of Asia, Race Is Too Hard to Talk About (March 30)
Russian Weapons Fewer Recipients in Southeast Asia (March 23)
Micronesia vs. China (March 16)

Plus: How the Banyan column got its name

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