China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative grows stronger against louder Western-led smears
Published: Feb 02, 2023 09:37 PM
A view of the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant Photo: Courtesy of PowerChina

A view of the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant Photo: Courtesy of PowerChina

Situated in the Amazon basin, 100 kilometers east of Ecuador's capital Quito, the Coca Codo Sinclair (CCS) hydroelectric plant, a signature project in South America, and the biggest hydroelectric power station in the country has recently fallen prey to Western smears, as part of a relentless attack by Western media sources on China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The main difference this time is the change in focus from the alleged "debt trap" to the alleged "construction flaws."

The allegations, claiming the project contains many crackers that may lead to its breakdown, have elicited immediate responses from officials at the Chinese Embassy in Ecuador, the participating companies, and experts, with sound evidence and a clear stance, providing a full picture of the project and others that Western media has attempted to overlook.

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the BRI, the Wall Street Journal on January 20 published a long article with an appalling headline and distorted information in a bid to discredit China's overseas infrastructure projects. In the report, the CCS hydroelectric plant in Ecuador is used as an example in an attempt to support claims that it has some construction flaws.

The report claimed that "thousands of cracks have emerged in the hydroelectric plant," suggesting that "the project could break down," citing random experts, without providing strong evidence to back up such claims.

Chinese government officials, companies, and experts refuted this report for ignoring facts about the project.

In an exclusive interview with the Global Times on Wednesday, the Chinese Embassy in Ecuador said that the relevant reports do not give the full picture of the situation.

Regarding the partial cracks in the hydropower project, the embassy said that this problem has been investigated by an international third-party independent inspection and evaluation agency TUV SUD based in Germany, with the conclusion that it will not affect the operation and safety of the unit.

The power station will be safe within the design life of 50 years, the embassy said.

Contrary to the groundless accusation, the CCS hydroelectric plant's contribution to improving local people's livelihoods and the promotion of local economic development are obvious facts to all.

As the largest hydropower station in Ecuador's history, it is a landmark project made possible by China-Ecuador practical cooperation, playing an important role in helping Ecuador's transformation from an electricity importer to an electricity exporter, while seeing an increase in foreign exchange earnings rise.

Since the project was put into commercial operation in 2016, it has generated about 42 billion kWh of electricity so far, meeting over a quarter of Ecuador's national electricity demand. The Power Construction Corp of China (PowerChina), the project developer, told the Global Times on Thursday.

In terms of the so-called debt issues that Western media has claimed, the engineering, procurement, and construction contract value stood at $1.98 billion, with most of the financing provided by the Export-Import Bank of China, a big relief to a country with prevailing financial difficulties.

So far, the owner's income from power generation has far exceeded the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contract cost for the project's construction, PowerChina said.

Economically and environmentally, the commissioning and power generation of the CCS hydropower station has greatly improved Ecuador's power supply capacity, optimized the country's energy matrix, saved oil and gas resources, effectively reduced carbon emissions, and transformed Ecuador from an electricity importer to an electricity exporter in one fell swoop, PowerChina said.

However, by choosing to overlook the significance of the project to the regional economy and people's livelihoods, the report selectively sidestepped these achievements and intentionally nitpicked the project, experts said.

The report forcibly pieced together issues that were not directly related, such as the relationship between the construction of the power station, the initial design, and the subsequent river erosion, giving the false impression that it is entirely the fault of Chinese companies, the Chinese Embassy further noted.

The power station is just one of many targets for Western smears against the BRI.

The Angolan Kilamba Kiaxi-Belas Municipal Planning Project, a large social housing project outside the capital of Luanda, Angola, was also targeted in the media report.

Initiated jointly by the country's government and China's CITIC Construction in 2008, the project came to light to meet the needs of Angola's post-war reconstruction and people's livelihoods, according to a statement that CITIC Group sent to the Global Times on Tuesday.

The project includes the construction of a total of 20,002 housing units and the support of municipal works, with a resident population of 120,000.

Since its completion in 2012, the current handover and occupancy rates are at 100 percent, which has greatly alleviated the urgent housing needs of the Angolan people, the company said. As a demonstrable and livable new city built in a desert, the project has won the highest praise from both governments of China and Angola.

However, the recent report by The Wall Street Journal claimed that it has "cracked walls, moldy ceilings, and poor construction," in one of its many attempts at discrediting BRI projects.

In response to the allegation, CITIC Group said in a statement to the Global Times that the project does not have any construction problems.

"On the contrary, because of the excellent design and construction of the project and the sound municipal service system, it was sold out within a relatively short period of time after completion and handover, which was affirmed by the Angolan people," the company said.

So-called "poor construction quality" related problems are due to the fact that after some residents moved in, to meet the needs of individualized living, their houses were substantially renovated, with components such as floors, wall coatings, water, and electricity pipelines installed in kitchens and bathrooms, CITIC Group noted.

Due to substandard workmanship, these renovations destroyed the original water and electricity pipelines and subverted waterproof measures, resulting in water leakage in some houses.

"Even though, this ratio of damages was not high, and was rare," the company said. At the request of the owner, CITIC Group also actively assisted in remedying the situation, and repairs have since been completed.

Infrastructure, as the backbone of the Belt and Road construction projects, has always been a key focus of Chinese companies, with factors such as quality, cost, and the consideration of the impact of construction having repeatedly been demonstrated in the preliminary level of every project before being approved, experts said.

"From a national point of view, we closely monitor corresponding Chinese companies' participation in the BRI construction for quality control," Song Wei, a professor at the School of International Relations and Diplomacy, the Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Special attention has also been paid to the economic benefits that the project is likely to generate, including the recruitment of all staff in engineering construction and the operation of the projects, so as to improve the livelihoods of the local people and promote the sustainable development of the local economy, Song Wei said.

Growing stronger
The new round of criticism and hype by foreign media against Chinese infrastructure projects in the 10th year of the BRI is another reflection of the fact that the decade-long cooperation has achieved positive results, with many iconic projects having been completed, which have made the US-led West fear losing their power of influence over other regions, experts said.

To date, 151 countries and 32 international organizations have signed more than 200 cooperation documents on the joint construction of the BRI, official data showed. More countries are expected to follow suit in the future.

Meanwhile, to beef up the quality standard of infrastructure projects, China has actively been promoting cooperation in national standards for the joint construction of the Belt and Road. More than one-third of the key infrastructure projects under construction in countries and regions along the Belt and Road have adopted China's high standards, according to China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

"At the current juncture, the world, especially developing countries, has been deeply impacted by the global pandemic and urgently needs to recover, a recovery in which the BRI cooperation can further play a part as it leads a high-quality development path for global cooperation," Song Wei said.