Project uses loans, ex­per­tise un­der Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive

China Daily (Canada) - - WORLD -

PODGORICA, Mon­tene­gro — When news broke that con­struc­tion of Mon­tene­gro’s first high­way would be­gin near his house, Vukasin Petro­vic, a vil­lager in Jelin Dub, about 14 kilo­me­ters north of the cap­i­tal Podgorica, was so ex­cited that he joked he would jump off a planned bridge.

The dream of safe and fast trav­els was too dis­tant to re­al­ize in this small and un­der­de­vel­oped cor­ner of the Balkans, un­til im­pres­sive piers, some as high as 160 me­ters, emerged on the hori­zon.

The high­way is part of the project that cut through the coun­try’s un­du­lat­ing moun­tains.

Now, 69-year-old Petro­vic often sits on a big, wooden chair in front of his house just to ob­serve the progress of con­struc­tion, and vows he would be one of the first to drive on the high­way, once it’s com­pleted.

Ini­tial sus­pi­cion to­ward the high­way wasn’t lim­ited to Petro­vic. When the Mon­tene­grin govern­ment first floated the project, it was crit­i­cized do­mes­ti­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally as “empty talk” and po­lit­i­cal mar­ket­ing, said Va­troslav Be­lan, a govern­ment ad­viser.

“Now we are un­der a dif­fer­ent kind of pres­sure from our ci­ti­zens, to build the high­way as soon as pos­si­ble,” Be­lan said.

The 41-km-long road un­der con­struc­tion, sup­ported with Chi­nese loans and en­gi­neer­ing ex­per­tise un­der the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, is the first phase of a 180-km-long high­way, which will link the Adri­atic port of Bar to land­locked Ser­bia. It is the big­gest in­fra­struc­ture in Mon­tene­gro, a ter­rain-chal­lenged coun­try that nev­er­the­less has been draw­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tional tourists.

De­spite its pop­u­lar­ity and im­por­tance in Mon­tene­gro, the high­way has drawn the ire of the West­ern me­dia, which has dubbed the project a “debt trap”, al­leg­ing that the Chi­nese-aided project would bank­rupt the Balkan coun­try.

A Reuters re­port said that the Chi­nese loan for the high­way “sent Mon­tene­gro’s debt soar­ing”.

A widely-cited pol­icy pa­per by the Wash­ing­ton-based Cen­ter for Global De­vel­op­ment said: “Mon­tene­gro’s debt prob­lem is enor­mous,” quot­ing a study — re­leased in Fe­bru­ary 2017 — by the World Bank that es­ti­mates the coun­try’s pub­lic debt “as a share of GDP will climb to 83 per­cent in 2018 in the ab­sence of fis­cal ad­just­ment.”

Yet, in­ves­ti­ga­tions and in­ter­views by Xin­hua found oth­er­wise.

The terms of the Chi­nese

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