Foreign workers of PowerChina have a group photo taken on the Great Wall on Friday. Photo: Courtesy of PowerChina Resource
Under the China-proposed Belt and Road (B&R) initiative, an increasing number of Chinese firms are launching infrastructure projects in countries along the routes. The Global Times recently spoke with several foreign employees who work for those China-funded projects to learn about their experiences and how B&R has brought tangible benefits to them as well as their home countries.
For 34-year-old Pakistani Fazal Raheem, joining a coal-fired power plant project in 2015 at Port Qasim in the city of Karachi was a "life-changing thing" for him as well as his family.
The 1,320-megawatt project, comprised of two 660-megawatt coal power plants, was developed by State-owned PowerChina Resource as one of the earliest energy programs under the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Unveiled in November 2017, it is also one of the flagship projects under the China-proposed Belt and Road (B&R) initiative, marking PowerChina's largest overseas investment project so far.
Raheem, who had always aspired to work for a Chinese firm, was born in the Gilgit-Baltistan region in north Pakistan, which borders Northwest China and is home to the world's highest mountain region, the Himalayas.
"Back to 1,000 years ago, China's old Silk Road passed through my hometown. Personally, I have felt the strong economic ties between China and Pakistan since I was very young. Currently, about 20 percent of the locals in Gilgit-Baltistan can speak some Chinese," he told the Global Times over the weekend, also speaking in fluent Chinese.
And because of that fascination, Raheem immediately applied for an administrative staff position at PowerChina's subsidiary in Pakistan as soon as he heard about the recruitment.
Since joining PowerChina in 2015, Raheem said he and his family of three brothers and four sisters have "taken pride in and benefited a lot" from his job.
"The job totally changed my life path. It provided me with a chance to work in an international team, and also allows my big family to enjoy a decent life," Raheem said.
Also, his salary, which has been raised three times so far, enabled him to afford his younger brothers' university tuition fees as well as send some earnings back to his parents.
"My family has now purchased more land and orchards, becoming an affluent household in my hometown," Raheem said.
But he stressed that what makes him most inspired is the feeling of working "hand-in-hand" with Chinese colleagues and contributing to joint efforts for the sake of his home country.
"Pakistan's economy was posting lackluster growth before [CPEC], but then projects under CPEC, like the coal-fired power plant, brought a bunch of opportunities to help raise locals' living standards like me and also address the country's chronic electricity shortage problem," he noted.
In Pakistan, the Port Qasim project alone has created more than 3,000 jobs for locals like Raheem, Sheng Yuming, chairman of PowerChina Resource, told the Global Times over the weekend.
Meanwhile, it has also generated a "spillover effect" and created thousands of indirect positions, for example, in the material supply, equipment transportation, consulting and accounting sectors, Sheng said.
Boosting the local economy
Raheem is certainly not alone in reaping tangible benefits from the B&R initiative.
Shisupal Chhetree, 53, is now a senior executive at PowerChina's subsidiary in Nepal. He has been working for the firm's Marsyandi-A-hydro-electric station project since 2013, like many of his peers. The $165.9 million project with an installed capacity of 50 megawatts started generating electricity on September 27, 2016.
"In Nepal, job positions were quite limited [before], and many of the locals used to fly to the Middle East in search of employment and to make a living," Chhetree told the Global Times.
But that ordeal ended when an increasing number of Chinese firms, including PowerChina, made inroads into Nepal under the B&R initiative, boosting locals' incomes and revitalizing the business industry chain, according to Chhetree.
"Those Chinese firms also helped us to build bridges, highways and hydropower stations, which improved the country's infrastructure network and laid a foundation for Nepal's economic takeoff," Chhetree said, citing the example of the country's ameliorated electricity supply.
In the past, Nepal suffered electricity shortages of up to 15 hours a day during dry season, but the power cut period has been largely shortened now, Chhetree said.
Laotian citizen Bounpep, a local communications officer at PowerChina's Nam Ou River Basin Cascade Hydropower Project in Laos, also shared his positive experience of working for a B&R-related project.
Three years ago, Bounpep was living in a 1.5-meter-high hut built along the 354-kilometer-long Nam Ou River, one of the major tributaries of the Mekong River.
But now, he, as well as 240 other nearby village households, has relocated to a new immigration village built by PowerChina, which not only provides larger and brighter houses, but also crucial facilities and services including schools, markets and clinics.
Bounpep stressed that under the B&R initiative, hydropower projects in Laos, including the Nam Ou dam, are in line with the Laotian government's strategy to transform the country's rich hydroelectric resources into a "storage battery for Southeast Asian countries."
Last year, PowerChina's subsidiary in Laos signed electricity transmission agreements with neighboring countries, such as Malaysia and Singapore, and construction of new electricity lines is underway, Bounpep noted.
During the interview, those foreign workers also praised the benefits that the B&R initiative has brought to their home countries.
"Previously in Pakistan, economic growth was centered on big cities, but the B&R initiative is spreading the seeds of growth to [other] cities along the routes. For example, the Gwadar port, constructed in a quick manner, has now spurred the development of four neighboring Pakistani cities," Raheem said.
The other foreign workers also took note of Chinese speed and standards. "After the 8.1-magnitude earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, the hydropower stations were one of the few projects to quickly resume production. And construction of the projects only took about three years, compared with seven to eight years proposed by firms from other countries… the speed is amazing," Shisupal said, noting that the locals are also speaking highly of those projects.
"[Those projects] provided a chance for us to learn Chinese standards and new tech know-hows as well as breed our own talents," Raheem said.
Sheng noted that unlike the models adopted by Western companies, Chinese firms usually adopt the strategy of "hiring locally" to carry out B&R-related projects. "We know that showing a local how to fish does more than catching and giving fish to them. That is a more sustainable way to promote economic development."