InfrastructureChina’s infrastructure is failing owing to sub-standard materials, corruption, and lax regulation

Published 4 October 2012

Shoddy infrastructure in China has put people in danger time and time again; many of the infrastructure issues in China stem from the government’s focus on quantity over quality, as well as making sure that as many people are employed as possible for a project, rather than using the latest construction technology; sub-standard materials, corruption, and lax regulation only exacerbate the problem

Infrastructure in China has put people in danger time and time again. In August, a $300 million suspension bridge collapsed, killing three people; in 2009, a building in Shanghai toppled because its foundation was subpar; and the Telegraph reported the $210 million Guangzhou opera house began to shed its glass window panels and large cracks formed in the ceiling just months after opening. 

Bloomberg Business Week reports that many of the infrastructure issues in China stem from the government’s focus on quantity over quality, as well as making sure that as many people are employed as possible for a project.

Wang Mengshu, deputy chief engineer at China Railway Tunnel Group, told Business Week that rather than use advanced technology to carve out railroad tunnels, the group often prefers to hire millions of pairs of hands “to solve the national employment problem.”

Another reason for infrastructure problems in China is the time frame within which building, especially residential buildings, is finished counts for more than how long it will last. Buildings are built quickly, but are not made to withstand natural disasters and often have to be refurbished or reconstructed in some way.

“Every year, new buildings in China total up to 2 billion square meters and use up to 40 percent of the world’s cement and steel, but our buildings can only stand 25 to 30 years on average.” Deputy Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing told members of a forum on green building in 2010.

U.S. commercial buildings are built to last between seventy and seventy-five years, according to the U.S. department of Energy.

“With such a rapid pace of construction, there’s often relatively little monitoring of standards.” Stephen Hammer, a lecturer in energy planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told Business Week.

 Low quality cement was a significant factor in the collapse of school buildings in the wake of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake which killed 1,700 people.

“When cement is mixed inadequately or when other materials are mixed in, it’s not very strong, so any major storm or stress on a building could make it fall down,” Francis Cheung, author of brokerage firm CLSA’s 2012 report, China’s Infrastructure Bubble told Business Week

Last year the government started issuing guidelines on materials used in buildings, but there is little evidence that the infrastructure issue is changing.  “There is a movement toward compliance with international building codes and standards,” Hammer said. “But implementation and oversight remain extremely variable.”

Some people are concerned that the cost to refurbish buildings, bridges, and other infrastructure time and time again will add up to a price tag the country may not be able to afford.

 “Will China still be able to pay for another round of infrastructure development — or will its cities become landscapes of dilapidated buildings?” Robert Blohm, an economist and consultant for Keen Resources Asia in Beijing told Business Week.

The lack of regulations and enforcement of those regulations have not stopped the government from approving future plans.  “In an economic slowdown, the government has to take some countercyclical measures,” Xu Lin, head of the planning department at the National Development and Reform Commissions told Business week.

 

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