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China to launch ‘worldwide manhunt’ to focus on officers concerned in graft in BRI tasks: Report

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Residents go by the brand for the Belt and Road Forum outdoors the China National Convention Center in Beijing Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

China plans to launch an “international manhunt” to focus on officers allegedly concerned in corruption within the nation’s formidable decade-old multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a media report mentioned March 20.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), the Communist Party of China’s anti-corruption watchdog, made the decision in a gathering on March 19 with a number of businesses concerned within the cross-border corruption hunt, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.

“[We] must strengthen the integrity of building the Belt and Road Initiative and reinforce the high-pressure stance against corruption to provide strong support and a firm guarantee for winning the tough and protracted battle against corruption,” the CCDI said, the Post reported quoting the party-run People’s Daily.

This is the second report in as many months highlighting CCDI’s plan to clean up the BRI projects.

Last month, the CCDI’s annual report said that fighting corruption related to the BRI will be among the priorities for the CCDI Inspection’s work for 2024. However, there is no clarity on the nature of the crackdown against corruption in the BRI projects stated to be about a USD trillion worth of investments in the last ten years which involved both the Chinese officials, leaders and bureaucrats of the recipient countries.

According to the previous announcement, all cases of disputes related to BRI will be conducted by judicial organs set up in China. The CCDI plans for an anti-graft campaign in BRI projects especially in small and medium countries come amid allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the high-profile projects which left several Asian and African countries in heavy debt traps with massive loans owed China.

Sri Lanka’s Hambantota project furthered by then President Mahinda Rajapaksa besides other projects in the countries has become a global concern as China acquired the port for a 99-year lease as a debt swap.

The projects built without due diligence assessments of their viability also resulted in allegations of corruption.

Reeling under heavy loans, Sri Lanka defaulted on its external loans in 2022. As the country faced a massive economic crisis, India provided about $4 billion in emergency financing for the island nation to recover.

Pakistan, where China is building the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) – an officially designated flagship project of the BRI – has been reeling under a massive economic crisis in the past several years despite receiving over $25 billion project assistance from China under the CPEC.

The CPEC connects China’s Xinjiang province with Pakistan’s Gwadar port. India objected to it as it was being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

China which celebrated the 10th anniversary of the BRI last year said it had signed more than 200 BRI cooperation agreements with more than 150 countries and 30 international organisations across five continents. However, as it enters a second decade, its integrity and transparency have frequently come into question in international discourse, the Post report said.

The project has been seen by the US and its allies as a geopolitical weapon which increases China’s leverage in countries to which it has granted loans, it said.

Significantly, after pouring billions of dollars into the BRI projects, China is reportedly shifting its focus on “small and beautiful” projects with assistance and recovery modelled on the international financial institutions to bring transparency in the transactions.

In his last month’s “work report” to the parliament, Chinese Premier Li Qiang whereas referring to BRI mentioned “we will steadily advance cooperation on major projects and implement a number of “small and beautiful” tasks for bettering folks’s well-being”.

Austin Strange, assistant professor of worldwide relations within the Department of Politics and Public Administration on the University of Hong Kong, mentioned a significant rationale for “small but beautiful” is about danger administration.

“Large infrastructure has been the hallmark of the [Belt and Road Initiative] over the past decade, and these projects generate major economic, social, and political uncertainty given their sheer scale and complexity,” he mentioned. “They can also become reputational liabilities. Smaller projects are not as risky.”

Chinese infrastructure builders would possibly think about “mini” hydropower vegetation, smaller highway tasks and digital infrastructure tasks that fetch a revenue with little danger of volatility, Strange advised the Post in an earlier report.

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