Two Chinese contractors are about to agree a deal to build two highways in Moldova, according to an Vitalie Lurcu, the state secretary of the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure, in an interview with the South China Morning Post.
China Hyway Group, a private sector road builder based in Beijing, and the state-owned China Railway Group are in talks to build two highways with a combined length of 300km for a total cost of $400m. The funding will either be provided entirely by Chinese loans or be split, with China paying 85% of the cost.
One highway will encircle the Moldovan capital of Chisinau and the second will connect Moldova’s northern districts with neighbouring Ukraine.
Lurcu said: "The projects will significantly improve traffic and contribute to economic growth. Negotiations on the financing will be concluded this year, and construction is expected to be completed in three years."
The project will be part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to improve communications over the length of the Eurasian landmass. Moldova, a former Soviet republic sandwiched between the Ukraine and Romania, has been in talks with China since December 2017 to establish a free-trade agreement.
The projects are the latest to be funded by China in central and eastern Europe, where states have been receptive to loan offers.
This trend has led to alarm among western European countries. The 2019 Munich Security Conference report, published last month, contained a special chapter on China’s growing influence on the Balkans. It pointed out that Montenegro now owes 39% of its total external debt to China, the result of Chinese help in building a motorway to Serbia. Among other states in the region, Macedonia owes 20% of its external debt to China, followed by Bosnia (14%) and Serbia (12%).
Altogether, Chinese companies have poured over $300bn into Europe over the past 10 years. The money has been spent on developing energy and port infrastructure in southern Europe and increasing transport connectivity to the east.
Image: Apartment buildings in Chisinau (Zserghei /Public domain)