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Friendship Blossoms on the Belt and Road

CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-10-17 09:32
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The past decade has seen fruitful cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. Building on their engineering expertise, legions of Chinese builders have undertaken extensive construction projects to help countries and regions involved in the initiative improve their infrastructure and regional connectivity in a bid to promote their social and economic development. During construction, environmental preservation and improvement of local residents' well-being are also highly valued. China Daily shares nine exemplary cases.

Combined efforts of local and Chinese workers pay dividends

On the Jhelum River in northern Pakistan stands the Karot Hydropower Station, the first hydropower project in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which was put into commercial operation on June 29, 2022.

From 2015 to last year, thousands of builders from China and Pakistan worked on the project, striving for their shared goal.

Among them, Ren Zhimin, a technological manager for the Karot project, is a second-time participant in overseas hydropower projects.

His team consisted of 2,400 members during peak construction seasons, 78 percent of them local workers. How to train such a localized team to enable them to meet the technological quality standards was one of the challenges he faced.

Years of overseas project management experience gave Ren an edge in cultural integration and the training of local employees.

A key technician in his team, Saqib Khan, 28, who joined the project in 2017, is one of the best associates that Ren has mentored. "Khan is diligent, eager to learn and willing to take on any task," Ren said. "He is willing to see what he has done wrong, is open to criticism and will try and fix any mistake promptly."

Having worked in three positions within five years, namely technology management, supply procurement and quality control, Khan has grown into a versatile specialist who can handle tasks on his own.

Abdul Hafeez, in his late 50s, joined the project in 2015, working with China Three Gorges South Asia Investment as a senior manager responsible for maintaining relations with local governments and communities, as well as on-site labor management.

He said he has a "friendly and comfortable" relationship with his Chinese colleagues, and his closest friend is An Xiaobin from the project's land acquisition and resettlement department at the company.

When the project started in December 2016, a graveyard needed to be relocated for a spillway. An and Hafeez visited the community, communicated with related family members, and negotiated for a compensation mechanism. It took them just over two months to complete the relocation work. That was recognized as a successful case and it was posted on the International Finance Corporation website as an example.

HBIS Group takes lead role in greening of Serbian iron and steel plant

"The environment of this place is getting increasingly better."

That's how Ljubica Drake, environmental manager of HBIS Group Serbia Iron & Steel, described the lush premises of the first Chinese-acquired overseas fully-integrated steel enterprise, located on the site of the former Smederevo Steel Plant in eastern Serbia, about 45 kilometers from the capital city of Belgrade.

A veteran employee who joined the company in 2004, Ljubica was amazed at the company's green transformation. Before being taken over in 2016 by HBIS Group, a major Chinese steelmaker headquartered in Hebei province, the plant had seen its environmental facilities ground down to a virtual standstill.

A leader in the green development of China's steel industry, HBIS Group introduced its advanced production processes, technologies and concepts to HBIS Serbia, investing more than $200 million in making the production processes more efficient and environmentally-friendly. The efforts have paid of, promoting HBIS Serbia's across-the-board improvements, especially in automation, recycling, energy efficiency and green manufacturing.

With key facilities such as new sintering machines, furnaces and gas cabinets put into operation, HBIS Serbia is now on the fast track to green development. The project, prompted under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, has also fostered a growing friendship between Serbian and Chinese workers.

At sunset, Qi Fenglai, deputy head of the sintering workshop at HBIS Serbia, returned to his of ce after a busy day. Looking at a miniature terracotta warrior on his desk, a smile spread across his face. "This thoughtful small gift from my Serbian colleagues never fails to warm and brighten my days in this foreign land," he said.

As the employees from both China and Serbia were getting along with each other, mutual trust and respect have brought them closer.

Nenad Botic, a team leader in sintering machine operation at HBIS Serbia, expressed his admiration for the professional skills of the Chinese technical staff. In early 2023, Qi joined the team headed by Botic to fix their machines.

"The professional competence of the Chinese technical staff is estimable," Botic said, adding that he is confident that under their guidance, he will be able to reach their level one day.

Commissioned by the trade association of Chinese-invested Serbian businesses, a training program opened in January to improve member companies' media literacy, with HBIS Serbia taking a primary role in the program's operation. The event attracted executives from more than 40 companies to exchange and learn from each other.

In addition, the management of the company values its smooth integration into the local community and promotion of traditional Chinese culture. During this year's Spring Festival holiday, management members visited local residents, sharing China's folk customs with them and sending them festival wishes, with everyone immersed in a joyful atmosphere.

Environmental protection an ongoing commitment

Luis Albisu is an outstanding mechanical and electrical manager at the Kirchner-Cepernic hydroelectric power plant currently being built in Argentina by China Energy Engineering Group, aka Energy China.

In his 70s, Albisu exudes professionalism and a strong work ethic and often visits the construction sites to conduct personal inspections. Despite his senior management status, his vision goes beyond construction technology and production management as he is well aware of the importance of environmental protection.

Rather than being just a slogan, environmental protection needs to be put into practice, Albisu said. He presented a proposal to recycle wooden boxes made for shipping tools into furniture for local residents. The initiative has increased the reuse rate of the wood and scaled down consumption of natural resources while also reducing solid waste.

Albisu also proposed the use of separators to address the issue of mechanical waste oil. He actively sought solutions and introduced separators which protect the environment while saving the cost of waste oil disposal.

A dedicated team player, Albisu has committed himself to ecological protection and constantly calls on his colleagues to contribute to the environmental cause.

During the initial period of the power station's construction, he observed that some workers often casually discarded foam, plastic, wood and other waste materials that eventually ended up in the river or nearby neighborhood, causing pollution and damage to soil and water sources. After convincing the workers to stop littering, he now actively promotes environmental awareness by reiterating the importance of garbage classification.

Thanks to Albisu's unremitting efforts, environmental work at the power plant has been greatly improved and has won wide acclamation from the local community.

He has never given up his work or environmental efforts because of his age or physical condition, and his unwavering enthusiasm and perseverance have inspired those around him to increase their environmental awareness.

"It is everyone's responsibility to protect the environment," Albisu said. "Our generation should leave a better environment for the next one. If we don't protect the environment, then our descendants will inherit a lifeless world."

Chinese sleeper assistance benefits Laos rail network expansion

A railway construction project in Laos involving Chinese companies typifies the high quality of their work and success in overseas resourcefulness.

Among them, China Railway 15th Bureau Group Road-Bridge Construction Corporation Limited was the exclusive supplier of sleepers installed in the 422.4-kilometer Boten-Vientiane section of the China-Laos Railway, providing more than 801,200 regular sleepers in three types and nearly 260 sets of turnout sleepers in eight types.

Despite language obstacles, scorching temperatures and severe shortages of equipment and raw materials, in early 2020 the Chinese company spent 85 days establishing a standardized rail concrete sleeper manufacturing enterprise — more than six weeks ahead of schedule.

Quality control was strictly implemented in every step of the production procedures, ranging from raw materials and production to inspection. Each sleeper went through more than 30 production steps ahead of delivery, according to the company.

Building on a quality control team and a model workers' innovation studio for the project, the Chinese company achieved more than 20 technological innovations, which facilitated connection between different production processes and resolved the problems encountered.

Automatic control systems that were adopted in crucial steps in production, and an information technology-backed online platform in operation also helped improve work efficiency.

As well, by offering training to Lao employees, a great number of engineering management professionals and technical workers from the local community were recruited and they, in turn, assisted the company in increasing output and ensuring quality.

The project also opened the door to a better life for locals. When Suen, a Lao employee of the company, received her first pay, she said: "I had never expected that we, women workers, could take technical positions and earn the same high pay as men."

During the construction period, the Chinese company employed more than 200 Lao workers, of which 40 percent were women. And 90 percent of the project's front-line workers were from Laos.

Having learned cooking from Chinese chefs and his fellow workers, Somchit Soukkaseum, who previously worked as a kitchen assistant, was promoted to executive chef of the canteen established for the company staff. His creative integration of Lao and Chinese cuisine was a huge hit among his coworkers.

Green development is another salient feature reflected in the company's efforts to integrate into the local community during the project. "The project premises of China Railway 15th Bureau Group, a subsidiary of China Railway Construction Corporation, are beautiful, covered in greenness everywhere," said Bounthien Phimmaasone, head of a nearby village. "You could never imagine that used to be a barren landscape."

Other environmental efforts include the treatment of daily sewage and industrial wastewater, the installation of dust-removal, noise-reduction and vibration-damping facilities, the use of digital equipment, and recycling of construction waste for building roads.

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