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The Great Stone industrial park outside Minsk currently feels like an empty monument to political ambition, but with increased involvement from Chinese investors and Beijing’s backing it still has potential.
Flags branded with the China Merchants Group logo flutter along wide, empty roads as we make our way from the administrative headquarters towards Great Stone industrial park’s new trade and exhibition center. The center has a floorspace of 22,000 square meters, and is populated by a security guard who watches over an exhibit detailing the park’s most noteworthy resident companies. As we tour the exhibit, the park’s press secretary explains that the center will host an international economic forum later that year. Prompted perhaps by the cavernous exhibition space, she adds, “we’re just at the beginning of our journey here.”
Some commentators look at Great Stone, located just outside of Minsk and otherwise known as the China Belarus Industrial Park, and they see a bold idea struggling to convince investors. They talk about the personal interests of Belarus’ strongman leader, President Alexander Lukashenko, and describe a project that is more about ambition and politics than serious economic opportunity. The expensive-looking exhibition center certainly has a whiff of boondoggle about it, but, as with many projects undertaken by China, “big and empty,” always holds the uncertain promise of becoming “big and full.” During my visit to Great Stone, I asked employees whether the park was underachieving. The typical response was measured, yet believably candid: “It’s not as fast as we want, but, for such a huge process, it’s progressing at a good speed.” It doesn’t make for captivating headlines, but development is often slow—success a relative concept.