Get­ting on track

Chi­nese in­fra­struc­ture gi­ants set sights on in­creased Is­rael ac­tiv­ity

The Jerusalem Post - - FRONTLINES - • By EYTAN HALON

BEI­JING – Trav­el­ing through China’s bustling me­trop­o­lises and pic­turesque ru­ral re­gions, you can­not help but won­der at the im­pres­sive sight of tow­er­ing high­way bridges un­der con­struc­tion, whole new towns be­ing built from scratch and the trans­for­ma­tion of nat­u­ral re­sources into mam­moth en­ergy pro­jects.

Through the eyes of vis­i­tors from lit­tle Is­rael, the scale and pace at which Chi­nese in­fra­struc­ture is pro­gress­ing is hard to com­pre­hend. We wouldn’t have space for even a frac­tion of it all.

Yet look­ing around Is­rael to­day, you would be hard-pressed to miss the Chi­nese flag fly­ing over the coun­try’s lat­est, more mod­est, flag­ship in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects – from the Jor­dan Val­ley to Ash­dod. If the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem rail­way had been con­structed by Chi­nese state-owned con­struc­tion firms, trains would al­most cer­tainly have been shut­tling com­muters be­tween the two cities much sooner.

The com­pa­nies be­hind the in­fra­struc­ture devel­op­ment in Is­rael and across the world, sup­ported by China’s un­prece­dented Belt and Road ini­tia­tive, are de­ter­mined to demon­strate their ap­par­ently un­ri­valed ca­pa­bil­i­ties to their tar­get mar­kets. Show­ing off their award-win­ning pro­jects across China to for­eign diplo­mats and in­ter­na­tional me­dia is prov­ing an ef­fec­tive strat­egy.

China’s in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion gi­ants, un­ri­valed glob­ally in both ex­pe­ri­ence and size, prom­ise high-qual­ity and af­ford­able con­struc­tion, at­ten­tion to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns and timely project com­ple­tion. The com­pa­nies pro­vide thou­sands of Chi­nese work­ers who can re­lo­cate en masse in or­der to carry out the pro­jects.

And while there may be re­luc­tance in some parts of the world to foster the grow­ing in­volve­ment of for­eign state-owned en­ter­prises in con­struct­ing na­tional, and some­times crit­i­cal, in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects, the ef­fi­ciency, af­ford­abil­ity and re­li­a­bil­ity of Chi­nese con­struc­tion is a ma­jor ad­van­tage for both de­vel­op­ing and ad­vanced na­tions alike.

In Oc­to­ber, Chi­nese con­struc­tion firms – a com­plex web of state-owned or con­trolled par­ent com­pa­nies and sub­sidiaries op­er­at­ing in a range of fields – es­tab­lished the Chi­nese En­ter­prises As­so­ci­a­tion in Is­rael (CEAI), an um­brella body ac­com­pa­ny­ing them in in­ter­ac­tions with gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and to pro­mote deep­en­ing bi­na­tional com­mer­cial and eco­nomic ties.

Show­cas­ing their im­mense do­mes­tic pro­jects and grand Bei­jing head­quar­ters, the heads of some of the world’s largest con­struc­tion firms told a vis­it­ing Is­raeli me­dia del­e­ga­tion of their great sat­is­fac­tion

from their first ven­tures into the Is­raeli mar­ket. More­over, they are ea­ger to put pen to pa­per on ad­di­tional in­fra­struc­ture deals.

In April 2016, a con­sor­tium in­clud­ing Si­noHy­dro, a sub­sidiary of Pow­erChina, was awarded a con­tract to con­struct a 344-MW ca­pac­ity hy­dro­elec­tric pumped stor­age power sta­tion at Kokhav HaYar­den in the Jor­dan Val­ley, ad­ja­cent to Kib­butz Gesher. Due to be com­pleted in Novem­ber 2022 after more than four years of con­struc­tion work, the sta­tion is a third of the size of Pow­erChina’s 1,280 MW mega hy­dro plant al­ready in op­er­a­tion in Qingyuan, Guangzhou.

The com­pany has large con­tracts val­ued at a to­tal of $120 bil­lion in 121 coun­tries, so what at­tracts Pow­erChina to the mod­est Is­raeli mar­ket? Ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Chen Guanfu said their mo­ti­va­tion is twofold.

First, Is­raeli con­struc­tion and op­er­a­tion reg­u­la­tions are the same as those ap­plied in Europe. Should their Is­raeli project in part­ner­ship with Gen­eral Elec­tric prove suc­cess­ful, it could act as a bridge to greater op­er­a­tions in Europe.

Sec­ond, the com­pany says the Is­raeli en­ergy mar­ket of­fers great op­por­tu­ni­ties beyond hy­dro power. Is­rael’s shift to­wards gas-based power fol­low­ing re­cent dis­cov­er­ies in the Eastern Mediter­ranean basin goes hand-in-hand with China’s cur­rent tran­si­tion from coal power to re­duc­ing emis­sions in line with its Paris Agree­ment tar­gets.

Sat­is­fied by their early ex­pe­ri­ences, Pow­erChina is ac­tively seek­ing its next Is­raeli op­por­tu­nity. Al­though un­suc­cess­ful in the re­cent ten­der for the con­struc­tion of Is­rael’s gi­ant de­sali­na­tion plant, Sorek 2, the com­pany is now ac­tively look­ing at op­por­tu­ni­ties for gas-pow­ered plants and sub­way con­struc­tion.

China Rail­way En­gi­neer­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (CREC) and its many sub­sidiaries boast pro­jects in more than 90 coun­tries world­wide, in­clud­ing in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion in lo­ca­tions as re­mote as Antarc­tica.

Rather closer to home, the Is­rael branch of its China Rail­way Tun­nel Group (CRTG) sub­sidiary is re­spon­si­ble for con­struct­ing the western seg­ment of the Tel Aviv Light Rail red line in a joint ven­ture with Is­rael’s Solel Boneh In­fra­struc­ture sub­sidiary Shikun & Binui.

“Very few pro­jects of this kind have been com­pleted re­cently in the West,” said Steven Wang, vice pres­i­dent of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Divi­sion of CREC. “But here in China, we have the nec­es­sary ex­pe­ri­ence.”

De­spite ini­tial de­lays caused by per­mit-re­lated is­sues, CRTG is to­day push­ing ahead to com­plete the project in line with its orig­i­nal com­mit­ment, as­sisted by its six ad­vanced tun­nel bor­ing ma­chines. While the

(Baz Rat­ner/Reuters)

TRANS­PORTA­TION MIN­IS­TER Yis­rael Katz speaks next to em­ploy­ees of China Rail­way En­gi­neer­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, dur­ing an event mark­ing the be­gin­ning of un­der­ground con­struc­tion work of the light rail, us­ing a Tun­nel Bor­ing Ma­chine, in Tel Aviv, last year.

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