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Expertise from across the globe to boost BRI

By BOB MORITZ | China Daily | Updated: 2019-04-27 09:42

The impetus behind a revival of the ancient Silk Road connecting East and West in the 21st century was always more than just trade. When President Xi Jinping proposed the initiative during a speech in Kazakhstan in 2013, he spoke also of the benefits of cooperation between people of different races, beliefs and cultural backgrounds in pursuit of peaceful development.

In a little more than half a decade, the original idea has blossomed into the Belt and Road Initiative that links 125 countries and around 4.4 billion of the world's population.

On sites from Central Asia to Africa to the Greek port of Piraeus, the spectacle of Chinese engineers and technicians working alongside their local counterparts has become commonplace. The BRI has accelerated this process by providing jobs along the Belt and Road routes for tens of thousands of local people in Chinese financed and operated projects.

Challenges in terms of people-to-people ties

The advent of the Belt and Road Initiative, however, has also created its own challenges in terms of people-to-people relationships in the workplace and the boardroom. With the strengthening of China's involvement in not only building, but also operating major infrastructure projects, Chinese executives and managers and their international counterparts have had to learn to adapt to each other's business cultures.

The BRI marked a switch from the model in which Chinese companies built infrastructure projects linked, say, to transport and resources via bilateral arrangements that allowed them a degree of autonomy. Now, Chinese companies are increasingly required to work effectively beyond the building of infrastructure or a construction project, and be experts at what we broadly call "asset management"-managing the continuing operations of a project that must generate adequate returns. That includes finance, procurement and personnel.

From building contractor to investor and operator

The transition from construction contractor to investor and operator is new to Chinese companies, so they have had to seek partnerships and develop new relationships with a wide range of multinational companies and financiers.

This new requirement to work in tandem with local and global partners in previously unfamiliar settings has put Chinese personnel on a steep learning curve. It has required a much deeper understanding of local political, fiscal, economic, business and community dynamics. It has required new skill sets to navigate this.

There is ample evidence, however, to suggest that China understands the challenges and recognizes the value of partnerships. There is now a regular flow of Chinese delegations to the countries along the Belt and Road, dispatched to study local regulations, operating methods and the needs of their customers.

However, nicely compiled study tour reports are no substitute for the practical experiences built up over decades by the international companies operating in those territories. China's partners in the developed economies-European countries in particular-have deep expertise in achieving commercial and social successes in some of the developing countries along the Belt and Road.

There is now an unprecedented opportunity to build world-class, multi-cultural and multi-disciplinary partnerships between China, the developed economies and the BRI countries to create win-win solutions and ecosystems.

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