Belt and Road Forum, II, part II-A Green Belt and Road May Not Yield “Green” for Business

Dr. Jean-Marc F. Blanchard's picture

One of the themes given greater attention at the Second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) was the environment. This is evidenced by the fact, as reported in one commentary, that the word “green” appeared seven times in the 2019 BRF Joint Communiqué versus no times in the 2017 one and the fact, as noted in another, that speakers at the BRF repeatedly stressed the need to ensure Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects were sustainable. China’s Minister of Ecology and Environment quipped, “‘the Belt and Road is not just a road of prosperity, it is also a road of green development.’” As far as foreign businesses are concerned, the quest to make the BRI greener suggests some opportunities to make some “green” (i.e., money) providing green inputs and technology, consulting services, and partnering with Chinese companies to ensure they deliver more sustainable projects. While China indeed has reason to push environmental sustainability to protect the BRI’s image and minimize the risk of participant backlash against China’s program, businesses should be cautious. One reason is that China and Chinese companies do not have a good track record of listening to local stakeholders, especially environmental groups. Another reason is that part of the selling point of the BRI is the speed and cost effectiveness of Chinese projects versus the competition. Too much attention to sustainability might undermine these advantages and thus suggest China will be cautious in going green. Yet another reason is that China and Chinese companies have difficulties cooperating with foreign firms, though they do. For now, foreign firms would be advised to target BRI participants to sell their products and services as the balance of needs and resources may give them better opportunities than if they focused on China. This might be the optimal path for generating sustainable “green.”