China’s global megaprojects that are slowly falling apart

SAN LUIS, Ecuador.- Built near a volcano, it was the largest infrastructure project in Ecuador’s history, a concrete colossus financed with money from China and so important to Beijing that the president Xi Jinping spoke at its inauguration in 2016.

According to Ecuadorian government engineers, the Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant, which cost 2.7 billion dollars, already has thousands of cracks, and concerns are growing about a possible failure in the largest energy source in Ecuador. To top it off, the steep banks of the Coca River are eroding and threaten to damage the dam.

“We could lose everything,” he says Fabricio Yepez, an engineer from the University of San Francisco de Quito, who closely monitors the problems of the project. “And we don’t know if it could be tomorrow or in six months.”

It is one of many Chinese-funded projects around the world that have myriad construction flaws..

The Coca Codo Sinclair hydroelectric plant in Ecuador

Over the past decade, China has doled out $1 trillion in international credits as part of the Belt and Road Initiative – known as the New Silk Road-, aimed at deepening economic ties and increasing China’s influence in Asia, Africa and Latin America. With those loans, the Beijing regime became by far the largest lender in the developing world, nearly equaling all the loans from all other governments, according to World Bank (WB) data.

But China’s practices as a big lender to the developing world have been criticized by economists, leaders of other countries and international officials, who argue that the program contributed to the debt crisis in countries such as Zambia and Sri Lanka, and that many governments do not have the means to repay these loans. Some projects are also considered to be out of step with the infrastructure needs of a country or harmful to the environment.

Now, some poor quality projects threaten to paralyze key infrastructure and to become over the years unpayable “white elephants” for the cost of repairs.

Today we suffer from the poor quality of the equipment and parts of the projects built by China“, He says Rene Ortiz, former Minister of Energy of Ecuador and former Secretary General of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Chinese money has been used to build everything from a port in Pakistan to roads in Ethiopia and a transmission line in Brazil.

Some of the projects built by China have already revealed construction flaws. Last year, the Pakistani authorities closed the Neelum-Jhelum hydroelectric power station after detecting cracks in a tunnel that transports water through a mountain to drive a turbine.

In November, the director of the country’s electricity regulator, Tauseef Farooqui, told the Pakistani senate that he was concerned that the tunnel could collapse, just four years after the commissioning of a plant that generates 969 MW. It would be disastrous for a country already hit by rising energy prices, Farooqui said. The closure of the plant, in July of last year, costing Pakistan about $44 million per month from rising energy costssaid the regulatory body.

In Uganda, the power generation company said it had detected more than 500 defects at a Chinese-built hydropower plant on the Nile River that generates 183 MW and has suffered regular failures since commissioning in 2019. China International Water & Electric Corp., which led the construction of the Isimba hydropower plant, did not build a barrier of floating containment to protect the dam from aquatic plants and other debris, which caused obstructions in the turbines and power outages. There were also leaks on the roof of the plant, where the generators and turbines are located. The plant cost $567.7 million to build and was financed mainly through a $480 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a New Year message, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022. (Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP)

The completion of another Chinese-built project on the Nile, the hydroelectric power station Karuma, is three years behind schedule, which Ugandan officials attribute to various construction flaws, including cracking in the walls. Uganda’s power generation company said the Chinese contractor, Sinohydro Corp., installed faulty switches and cables, and a fire system that needs to be replaced. Earlier this year, the government had to start repaying the $1,440 thousand China Export-Import Bank loan that financed the project, even though the plant remains inoperative.

In Angola, a decade after the first owners moved into Kilamba Kiaxi, a huge real estate project outside the capital Luanda, residents complain about cracked walls, moldy ceilings, and low-quality construction. The project, built by the Chinese group CITIC, was initially financed through a credit line of 2.5 billion dollars from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and was later refinanced by the China Development Bank.

“Our building has many cracks,” he says aida francisco, who lives with her husband and three children in one of the four-bedroom apartments in Kilamba. Like many other middle-class families in Kilamba, she bought the unit through a rent-to-own program. “If you look closely, you realize that these buildings are not going to last long,” says Aida Francisco. “They are coming down little by little”.

Many Chinese projects meet real development needs, especially in countries with difficulties obtaining financing to build the infrastructure they need.

In the province of Jujuy, one of the poorest in Argentina, PowerChina built the Cauchari solar park, the largest solar project in South America. At 4,000 meters above sea level, Cauchari has the capacity to supply energy for more than 160,000 homes, according to data from the Argentine government.

In Brazil, the Chinese company State Grid built one of the longest transmission lines in the world, connecting the Belo Monte dam in the northeast with cities in the south, almost 2,500 kilometers away.

Ryan Dube and Gabriele Steinhauser

The Wall Street Journal

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The article is in Spanish

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