EXCLUSIVE Imogen Braddick
CHINA’S bid to build a new “Red Empire” has left the world with a sea of roads to nowhere and half-built bridges.
Xi Jinping unveiled the world’s most ambitious infrastructure project 10 years ago this month – wooing Asia, Africa and the Middle East with bold promises.
Dubbed the “project of the century”, the Belt and Road Initiative was billed as a mega plan to create trade routes through huge swathes of Eurasia, with China at the centre.
With promises of loans and vast infrastructure projects like roads, railways and bridges, more than 150 countries have signed up.
It all forms part of Xi’s plan for China to become the “most powerful global power” by extending a friendly hand to a web of potential new allies, experts said.
But a decade on, his vision appears to be crumbling in many parts of the world – halted by bankruptcy, corruption and mountains of debt.
And many nations ended up getting more than the bargained for.
Wooed by the glitzy sales pitch, many have been left unable to keep up with the return payments when China comes knocking like a loan shark.
Building projects end up being ditched or unfinished until the debt is settled – with the Communist Party more than happy to take their pound of flesh.
As debt mounts, it’s feared more of these projects will go unfinished – and greedy Chinese lenders will seize control of land and key assets in lieu of repayment.
Countries such as Sri Lanka, Kenya, Montenegro, Laos and Kazakhstan have found themselves crippled by debt and reliant on Beijing.
Ashok Swain, professor of peace and security at Uppsala University, believes Xi’s project even acted as a “catalyst” for conflict in some nations.
“While the Belt and Road Initiative has contributed to infrastructure advancement, it has also been a catalyst for conflicts between countries and exacerbated debt issues in some instances,” he told The Sun.
Some unfinished projects have come to a screeching halt after local officials were sentenced for corruption.
In Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, enormous concrete columns are a daily reminder of a China-funded railway that was stopped after a corruption scandal.
In Kenya, a railway connecting the coastal city of Mombasa to Nairobi was left half-finished – ending in a field a few hundred miles short of its destination.
According to research lab AidData, one-third of projects have been plagued by furious protests, corruption scandals, labour violations, or environment problems.
After a decade of construction, experts told The Sun that Xi’s flagship project has mostly crumbled – leaving many poorer countries trapped by China’s control.
Expanding its tendrils across the world, analysts have long believed the Belt and Road Initiative is being used to boost China’s power.
Some suggest that it is a plan to further China’s ambitions using “predatory loans” and “debt traps” to bring nations’ under their sphere of influence.
Shaun Breslin, professor of politics and international studies at Warwick University, warned that some countries have become “too reliant” on China – ending up in a debt spiral with unfinished projects….