There have been some voices in the West claiming the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) Projects have been halted as they involve a high proportion of Chinese Employees, implying fears that Chinese workers with the coronavirus have curtailed BRI Progress.
But such views lack common sense.
Believing BRI projects employ a large proportion of Chinese workers is sheer bias. Chinese companies are mostly involved in project contracting, infrastructure construction and investing in the projects.
BRI partner countries have more say on the number of Chinese employees working at their projects, including workers and managers, that can be hired as they are subject to local laws, regulations and policies.
Even during the contract negotiation phase, parties involved in BRI projects will have already agreed on the division of each workforce. Therefore, it is easy to see that it is wrong to claim BRI projects have employed too many Chinese labourers.
Moreover, BRI projects have proven to be an important means to drive up local economies and employment.
While pushing forward the CPEC, China helped train Pakistani engineers and workers in order to increase local employment.
As of the end of 2018, economic cooperative zones along the BRI route have generated $2.4 billion in tax income and created 270,000 jobs for local residents.
And, many more jobs resulting from infrastructure project openings such as new train lines have been created.
Chinese employees are unlikely the reason the coronavirus is spreading. When the coronavirus outbreak experienced its peak in China in February, many BRI projects reportedly adopted measures to contain the virus, like monitoring workers’ temperatures and implementing screening procedures.
So far, no report has shown that any BRI project has been postponed due to Chinese employees contracting the coronavirus.
China has enforced very strict virus containment measures including citywide lockdowns, factory and shop shutdowns, self-quarantines and strict testing procedures. Not only have the measures been strictly implemented, Chinese people also have a high awareness of the precautions they need to take.
The coronavirus is dying down in China. Compared to its wild overseas spread, China is now much safer due to its strong prevention measures.
Now, Chinese employees have a far lower chance of transmitting virus when they return to their posts. Chinese people are gaining confidence in their ability to contain the virus and businesses are gradually resuming operations.
Based on the situations of some individual countries, the coronavirus pandemic will inevitably result in some BRI project delays. But any delays stem from local virus control measures rather than the proportion of Chinese workers at BRI projects.
For countries like Italy, one of the nations hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, BRI projects are expected to be postponed. In other countries where the situation has not deteriorated, BRI projects can continue and maintain their original schedules.
Many BRI infrastructure projects will be completed in the coming years, but the shock of the pandemic will be short-term. Though most countries haven’t yet tamed the virus, the overall situation should be brought under control in the second or third quarter of this year. In the long run, not even the coronavirus will delay BRI projects. There is no reason to hold Chinese workers liable for a nonexistent issue.