The Diplomat author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers from around the world to elicit their diverse views on US policy in Asia. This conversation with Jacinta Chen, a Downing-Pomona fellow at the University of Cambridge and former program assistant at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) in New York City, is 345 in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series.” .
Explain the impetus behind ASPI’s “Navigating the Belt and Road Initiative Toolkit.”
This toolkit is based on the 2019 ASPI report “Navigating the Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), which presented 12 policy recommendations to address the main challenges facing BRI projects. While primarily examining infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia, ASPI found that communication between Chinese project companies and affected individuals was often indirect, infrequent, one-sided, or non-existent, leaving local communities without resources. The lack of comprehensive and transparent environmental and social impact assessments (ESIAs) further hampered the ability of Chinese developers and contractors to anticipate and mitigate adverse impacts from projects.
To help remedy these issues early in the project life cycle, ASPI developed a “Digital Toolkit” that shows those affected by or involved in BRI projects how to properly engage with stakeholders and assess impacts on host country populations and the environment.
What does the Toolkit reveal about BRI host country relations with China?
Since the establishment of BRI, host countries have increasingly looked to Chinese officials, banks and companies to invest in and build large-scale infrastructure projects.
From the Global Infrastructure Center (GIHub) towards Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the White House, multitrillion-dollar estimates of the global infrastructure financing gap abound. While grants, loans and technical assistance from established bilateral and multilateral organizations will partly fill this gap, host country governments are also welcoming Chinese pledges to finance and deliver railways, power plants, highways, ports, , “green” and “high quality” infrastructures. and more.
In the context of high-level negotiations, ASPI heard from local communities experiencing the loss of clean water, food, shelter, land, livelihoods and ancestral graves as a result of BRI projects. Although some projects do not meet Chinese and international standards, there are not always enough solutions available to the affected people. The Toolkit equips local stakeholders with useful facts, strategies and resources for meeting regulatory requirements and safeguarding their own interests.
Examine the two critical aspects of development under BRI: stakeholder engagement and ESIA.
ASPI observed recurring problems stemming from inadequate implementation of stakeholder engagement and ESIAs. Chinese contractors, developers and financiers rarely approached affected people and NGOs at and around project sites. Local stakeholders found it difficult to name, let alone contact, the appropriate Chinese actors, even when they were forcibly evicted from their homes or lost access to running water. During meetings with local intermediaries, affected communities were pleased to hear about potential employment and compensation opportunities. But some of these deals never materialized.
ESIA processes tended to be opaque or incomplete. Affected people were largely unaware of the projects’ subsequent impacts because they had not been consulted for the assessments or provided copies for review. Local experts expressed concern about the validity of ESIAs, particularly when the proposed mitigation measures were not carried out or the monitoring results were not validated by independent agencies.
Identify the top three stakeholder expectations for BRI project funders, developers, and contractors.
First, Chinese financiers, developers, and contractors must involve a wide range of stakeholders in the planning, implementation, and operation of their projects. Harnessing the experience and perspectives of women, minorities, indigenous peoples, NGOs, researchers, journalists, village leaders and host country authorities can ultimately improve the quality of project designs. projects, reduce risks and improve benefits, especially for the most vulnerable and affected people. .
Second, Chinese companies, banks and other relevant institutions must share accurate, complete and truthful information with all interested parties. Regularly disseminating project details in local languages (through letters, emails, websites, social media updates, news reports, and other means) can raise awareness of major proponents, deepen understanding of technical documents such as ESIAs and enable affected households to make informed decisions. on such important issues as resettlement and restoration of livelihoods.
Third, Chinese financiers, developers, and contractors should open channels of collaboration and remediation for local stakeholders. Inviting affected people to serve on community coordination committees, work on projects, or participate in environmental and social monitoring activities can increase Chinese accountability and local acceptance. The establishment of grievance mechanisms would provide additional means to address questions and concerns from host country stakeholders, while minimizing the possibility of social unrest.
How can the BRI Toolkit be useful to the policy, business and social impact communities?
National and subnational policymakers, in Beijing and BRI host countries, can compare their own laws, policies and guidelines with international best practices outlined in the Check list, identify strengths and gaps in your written measures, and determine practical ways to strengthen implementation. Local policymakers can also use the Toolkit to keep track of important laws, policies and guidelines issued by the Chinese government, policy banks, commercial banks, and state-owned enterprises (SOEs).
The ASPI Toolkit encourages companies to reduce the risk of their projects through proper stakeholder engagement and ESIAs. It offers Chinese companies personalized recommendations and rationale for informing, consulting and working with stakeholders in various linguistic, cultural, religious, political and legal contexts. Businesses can even browse the directory of Concerned parties to connect with country experts on environmental and social issues.
between the interactive step by step timeline and the Glossary, the toolkit serves as a reference guide for social impact organizations and affected communities to advocate for more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable BRI projects. It also builds on the pioneering initiatives, manuals and databases of many local and international NGOs to support transnational cooperation and learning.