China Building City in Belarus, the "Last Dictatorship in Europe"
China is building a city in what German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has called the "last dictatorship in Europe." According to Bloomberg, the Chinese are building a city outside Minsk, the capital of Belarus, which will establish a base for Chinese exporters between Europe and Russia.
In April of last year then-Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that he wanted Chinese trade with Eastern and Central Europe to double by 2015. Jiabao also said that China would establish economic and technology zones in the region in the coming years, meaning that the city being built in Belarus could be one of the first of a number of cities built by the Chinese across Eastern and Central Europe.
"This is a unique project," Gong Jianwei, China's ambassador to Belarus, said on state television May 17, after the project won regulatory approval. "Nobody will be able to build anything like this industrial park anywhere else in Europe anymore. The infrastructure is so powerful."
The "modern city on the Eurasian continent," as it's called in marketing documents, will be built around the M1 highway that links Moscow and Berlin via Belarus and Poland. A speed-rail network will tie the airport to the center of the city, which will be powered by a $10 billion nuclear plant, Belarus's first, which Russia agreed to finance and build by 2018. The first stage of the park is scheduled to be completed by 2020, with the second stage taking another 10 years.
Belarusian dictator Alesksandr Lukashenko will welcome the move, especially considering that Belarus has been hit by sanctions from the West thanks to the Belarusian government's appalling human rights record.
China has built cities in foreign countries before where unsurprisingly the consequences of massive central planning can be seen. In Angola, the Chinese built Nova Cidade de Kilamba outside of the capital Luanda, which remains mostly empty.
China is financing the project in Belarus with low-interest loans on the condition that half of the money is spent on Chinese labor and materials. As Alexei Pikulik, head of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, told Aliaksandr Kudrytski of Bloomberg, the Belarusians may be naïve in their hopes for what this new city can deliver:
"Belarusian authorities want, a bit naively, to turn their country into China's bulwark in Europe," Alexei Pikulik, head of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, an independent research group based in Vilnius, Lithuania.
"This goal will be complicated while Belarus has strained relations with the West," Pikulik said by phone from Minsk on May 23. "While Belarus borrows, China makes money."