China’s modern Silk Road hits political, financial hurdles

Above, work is in progress at a site of the Pakistan China Silk Road in Haripur, Pakistan. Pakistan’s relations with Beijing are so close that officials call China their “Iron Brother.” (AP)
Updated 11 January 2018

China’s modern Silk Road hits political, financial hurdles

BEIJING: China’s plan for a modern Silk Road of railways, ports and other facilities linking Asia with Europe hit a $14 billion pothole in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s relations with Beijing are so close that officials call China their “Iron Brother.” Despite that, plans for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were thrown into turmoil in November when the chairman of Pakistan’s water authority said Beijing wanted an ownership stake in the hydropower project. He rejected that as against Pakistani interests.
China issued a denial but the official withdrew the dam from among dozens of projects being jointly developed by the two countries.
From Pakistan to Tanzania to Hungary, projects under President Xi Jinping’s signature “Belt and Road Initiative” are being canceled, renegotiated or delayed due to disputes about costs or complaints host countries get too little out of projects built by Chinese companies and financed by loans from Beijing that must be repaid.
In some places, Beijing is suffering a political backlash due to fears of domination by Asia’s biggest economy.
“Pakistan is one of the countries that is in China’s hip pocket, and for Pakistan to stand up and say, ‘I’m not going to do this with you,’ shows it’s not as ‘win-win’ as China says it is,” said Robert Koepp, an analyst in Hong Kong for the Economist Corporate Network, a research firm.
“Belt and Road,” announced by Xi in 2013, is a loosely defined umbrella for Chinese-built or -financed projects across 65 countries from the South Pacific through Asia to Africa and Europe. They range from oil drilling in Siberia to construction of ports in Southeast Asia, railways in Eastern Europe and power plants in the Middle East.
Other governments welcomed the initiative in a region the Asian Development Bank says needs more than $26 trillion of infrastructure investment by 2030 to keep economies growing. Nations including Japan have given or lent billions of dollars for development, but China’s venture is bigger and the only source of money for many projects.
Governments from Washington to Moscow to New Delhi are uneasy Beijing is trying to use its “Belt and Road” to develop a China-centered political structure that will erode their influence.
China’s significance to Pakistan as a source of financing increased following US President Donald Trump’s January 5 decision to suspend security assistance to Islamabad in a dispute over whether it was doing enough to stop Afghan militants.
“Belt and Road” is a business venture, not aid. A Cabinet official, Ou Xiaoli, told The Associated Press in April that lending will be on commercial terms. Beijing wants to attract non-Chinese investors, though that has happened with only a handful of projects, he said.
Among projects that have been derailed or disrupted:
— Authorities in Nepal canceled plans in November for Chinese companies to build a $2.5 billion dam after they concluded contracts for the Budhi Gandaki Hydro Electric Project violated rules requiring multiple bidders.
— The EU is looking into whether Hungary violated the trade bloc’s rules by awarding contracts to Chinese builders of a high-speed railway to neighboring Serbia without competing bids.
— In Myanmar, plans for a Chinese oil company to build a $3 billion refinery were canceled in November due to financing difficulties, the newspaper Myanmar Times reported.
There is no official list of projects, but consulting firm BMI Research has compiled a database of $1.8 trillion of infrastructure investments announced across Asia, Africa and the Middle East that include Chinese money or other involvement.
Many are still in planning stages and some up to three decades in the future, according to Christian Zhang, a BMI analyst.
“It’s probably too early to say at this point how much of the overall initiative will actually be implemented,” said Zhang.
“There is a big possibility that China is going to have a lot of disagreements and misunderstandings,” said Kerry Brown, a specialist in Chinese politics at King’s College London. “It’s hard to think of a big, successful project the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ has led to at the moment.”
Even Pakistan, one of China’s friendliest neighbors, has failed to agree on key projects.
The two governments are developing facilities with a total cost of $60 billion including power plants and railways to link China’s far west with the Chinese-built port of Gwadar on the Indian Ocean.
A visit by a Chinese assistant foreign minister in November produced no agreement on railway projects in the southern city of Karachi valued at $10 billion and a $260 million airport for Gwadar.
The same month, the chairman of the Pakistan Water and Power Development Authority announced the Diamer-Bhasha Dam would be withdrawn from joint development. The site is in Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan’s far north, part of the Kashmir region, which also is claimed by India.
“Chinese conditions for financing the Diamer-Bhasha Dam were not doable and against our interests,” the official, Muzammil Hussain, told legislators, according to Pakistani news reports.
The Chinese Cabinet agency overseeing “Belt and Road,” the National Development and Reform Commission, denied in a written statement that it asked for an ownership stake. It said the two sides had held only preliminary talks about the project.
A Pakistani Cabinet official who spoke on condition he not be identified further said the Chinese side asked for clarification of the ownership status of the dam site because Gilgit-Baltistan has yet to be formally made part of a Pakistani province. The water authority didn’t respond to requests to clarify its chairman’s comments.
“Belt and Road” is interwoven with official efforts to export Chinese rail, hydropower and other technology and steel, aluminum and other industrial goods.


Iran: Oil product exports hit record high despite US sanctions

Updated 22 January 2021

Iran: Oil product exports hit record high despite US sanctions

  • ‘The enemy and Trump wanted us to perish and die, our exports to reach zero’
  • ‘We set the highest record of exports in the history of the oil industry during the embargo period’

DUBAI: Iran has achieved record high exports of petroleum products despite US sanctions, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said in televised remarks on Friday.
Zanganeh said former US President Donald Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, had “joined the dustbin of history, but we are alive and working with more hope to build the country.”
“The enemy and Trump wanted us to perish and die, our exports to reach zero,” he said.
“We set the highest record of exports in the history of the oil industry during the embargo period.”
Trump abandoned the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed sanctions on the Iranian energy and banking sector.
It is estimated that Iran exports less than 300,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd), compared with a peak of 2.8 million bpd in 2018.
US President Joe Biden has said that if Iran resumed strict compliance with the nuclear agreement — under which it restrained its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions — the United States would too.
However, two of Biden’s top national security nominees said on Tuesday that the United States was a long way from making a decision to rejoin the deal.
Iran has significantly increased exports of petroleum products in recent years although oil products, like crude, fall under US sanctions.
Unlike crude oil, where the ultimate buyer is a refinery, other products can find their way to potentially thousands of small-scale industrial or residential buyers, making them difficult to trace.