The Environmental Nightmare of China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative

May 22, 2019 Updated: May 22, 2019

Editor’s Note: This letter was submitted by Henri Malosse, a member of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), in which he served as president from April 2013 to October 2015.

In April, Beijing announced that 115 governments had signed up to its One Belt, One Road (OBOR, also known as Belt and Road) initiative, following Italy in March (becoming the first G7 nation to do so) and Switzerland, which ratified a memorandum of understanding for cooperation and trade in late April.

The growing number of countries joining the gigantic Chinese project, sometimes referred to as ”globalization 2.0,” makes it inevitable. Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the new Mao Zedong, is on the verge of implementing the biggest infrastructure plan ever imagined on a global scale. We can be afraid of it, as it will surely have a big impact on the environment and will deal a blow to human rights.

Despite all “good words” from the Chinese regime, official statements do not mention any specific clear guidance regarding environmental procedures. In theory, Chinese officials will follow host-country laws and norms during construction. This is far from being enough. However, in most countries that are part of the OBOR, economic interests come first and the environment comes last. Besides, if a country had a proper environmental regulation, enforcing it would curb China’s appetite.

On the field, the results are quite clear. It is indeed true that the OBOR includes multiple green projects such as wind farms, solar plants and hydraulic dams, but all these go along with the development of coal, gas and mineral factories. According to the Global Environment Institute, Beijing participated in 240 coal power projects within the OBOR between 2001 and 2016, Pakistan being on the top of the list as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), worth $54 billion.

CPEC aims at connecting the Xinjiang Autonomous Region with the port town of Gwadar. More than half of CPEC spending, $33 billion, will go to 19 energy projects, of which three-quarters of the generated power will be based on coal-powered plants. Environmentalists believe that Pakistan may run out of water in 2025, while the plants will worsen the situation because of the intensive need of water for the operation of the latter, not to mention the pollution it will add to the already-contaminated air in the country.

If we take a closer look at the places where the OBOR has already reached a certain level, the repercussions on local environments are troubling. This can been seen in Africa, which has literally become China’s ”world factory” for its supply of raw materials. As Beijing lacks many crucial natural resources, it is now using the continent for extraction of oil, gas, minerals and timbers. In front of the Asian giant, African leaders are reluctant to blame Chinese companies for the environmental damages they cause on their lands, which go hand-in-hand with corruption.

For the local population, things do not look much better. If the construction of railways and motorways will undoubtedly favor trade, this large country planning in different parts of the world also has its backlash. It has already shifted markets and human populations in completely new areas, causing damages on the fauna and flora: Habitat loss, deforestation and air pollution. On the other hand, one could say that local workers are benefiting from the arrival of Chinese companies willing to develop their region. In most cases, this does not prove to be true. Indeed, the construction work is often completed by Chinese workers who are brought onsite and live in the same conditions as in China: Low salaries, long working hours, deplorable living conditions, etc. Zhang Baozhong, chairman of China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC), the sole operator of the Gwadar Port, confirmed it in a recent interview: ”It is true. The local people are not equipped with technical and vocational knowledge, modern trends, innovate research and hands-on experience.”

In the end, we can say this. First, OBOR countries get caught in a debt trap with the Chinese regime. Secondly, the construction on site do not benefit local workers. Thirdly, the consequences are often harmful for the environment. And finally, but most importantly, these countries become bound hand-and-foot to China for a very long time—just like Pakistan which handed over control of the Gwadar Port and Free Zone to China in 2015 for a period of 43 years. This does not look promising for the 21st century.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

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