Not even the pandemic could force Chinese, local crews to down tools

Workers at the construction site of the Hunutlu thermal power plant, in Adana, Turkey. The thermal plant is China’s largest direct investment project in Turkey. [Photo/Xinhua]

CAIRO-With the COVID-19 pandemic gripping most economies in a suffocating hold this year, the air has also been squeezed out of cross-border cooperation.

But there are exceptions. In deserts and along the coastlines of the Middle East, Chinese workers have been working shoulder to shoulder with workers from the host nations. Together, they have kept up the pace of construction in a range of projects, from landmark buildings to energy production and other infrastructure.

These projects are taking shape under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, providing hope in otherwise gloomy times and boosting ties between China and countries in the Middle East.

“The project team focuses on safety standards, and we are particularly impressed by the new technologies and methods from China,” said Yara, a student from Egypt’s Ain Shams University, who was visiting the construction site of a central business district that will be part of a new national capital for Egypt. The project is led by China State Construction Engineering Corporation, or CSCEC.

Located east of Cairo, the project brings together Chinese and Egyptian workers. It includes a planned 385-meter Iconic Tower, which is expected to become the tallest skyscraper in Africa. As such, it will be a candidate to join Egypt’s great landmarks, the project’s backers say.

“The tower is a spectacular project built by a perfect team,” Ibrahim Samy, a professor from the Faculty of Engineering and Materials Science at German University in Cairo, said after a visit to the site in October.

In late November, the main structure of the office building had its roof-sealing completed, a milestone in the project, and all the more remarkable considering the difficulties caused by the pandemic.

Since the virus struck in Egypt in February, all workers are required to wear face masks and gloves, ride in designated vehicles, and receive regular temperature tests.

Turkey is another country in the region enjoying the benefits of cooperation with China.

Fang Jie, construction manager of the Hunutlu Thermal Power Plant in Turkey, said in a letter to his colleagues: “After what we have experienced, choosing to stay and work for the project will become one of our most beautiful memories. I call it solidarity and brotherhood. Thank you all.”

Workers undaunted

Turkey, the worst-hit country by COVID-19 in the Middle East, has registered more than 1.8 million infections. Undaunted, 1,831 Chinese and Turkish workers have chosen to keep working on the project.

To speed up construction, 455 Chinese workers flew to Turkey and joined the project in August.

Located in the southern province of Adana, the Hunutlu project is backed by total investment of $1.7 billion, mainly from the Shanghai Electric Power Company. It is the biggest Chinese-backed venture in the country, and will stand as a flagship project linking the BRI with Turkey’s “Middle Corridor”-a development vision advanced by Ankara.

The power plant is expected to have a capacity of 1,320 megawatts after completion, and to generate 9 billion kilowatt-hours every year under full operation. That means it will account for an estimated 3 percent of Turkey’s electricity supplies.