"Trace is not only focused on the Bulgarian market" - Liu Jianfeng, CCCC Representative for Central and Eastern Europe in front of www.epicenter.bg

22 Mar 2019

Interview of Liu Jianfeng, representative of CCCC (China Communications Construction Company) for Bulgarian news website www.epicenter.bg:

Few people know that in Bulgaria is positioned the China's largest engineering company, China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC), a market leader   in the construction of railway and port infrastructure, and roads and bridges around the world. The company has 34 subsidiaries employing over 112,000 people on all continents. A technology institute for scientific activities and practices has been established with the company..

Since 1992, CCCC has been included in the list of Engineering News-Record (ENR) of the  best international constructors in the world-The company is public, listed on the Shanghai and Hong Kong Stock Exchanges. Thirty per cent of its shares are owned by JPMorgan, Black Rock, and about 65% of the shares are owned by China.

China Communications Construction Company Limited has built the so-called "submerged tunnel" on the unique bridge linking Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao, is now building the fourth suspension bridge of the Panama Canal as well as the Mombasa railway line to Nairobi in Kenya (472 km long), the Singapore-Malayisia, and a big part of the speed railway lines in China

According to preliminary data, the revenue of  CCCC for 2018, is about 70 billion EUR.

And this mega-company has been  in Bulgaria in the last five years, wants to do business in Bulgaria and showcase its new technologies and modern construction practices.

In a consortium with ‘Trace Sofia’, CCCC won the tender for the third lot of the modernization of the Elin Pelin - Kostenets railway line, in the section from Ihtiman to Kostenets.

China Communications Construction Company Limited's office for Central and Eastern Europe is in Sofia. The office is headed by Mr. Liu Jianfeng - a Chinese man, who is in love with Bulgaria.


- How did you create this mega-company, Mr. Liu? Its indicators are impressive. The revenue of the company for last year alone is more than the GDP of Bulgaria.

- The CCCC was formed by the merger of two major Chinese companies in 2006. One of them is a  Chinese company for roads and bridges, the other  is a Chinese engineering company for ports.. This shows that the CCCC has the full capacity to cover the construction of roads, bridges, tunnels and any similar infrastructure.

- Where are your projects spread around the world?

- In more than 100 countries, which are  represented by companies' branches of CCCC, by commercial agencies, as is currently the case in Bulgaria. We have more than  150 offices around the world. Over the past 20 years, CCCC has built a strong reputation in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America. We want to replicate this in   Europe as well.

- Which CCCC-built site are you most proud of?

- There are many projects related to railway infrastructure and motorway construction that we are proud of. But we are most proud of one particular major infrastructure project - the construction of a railway line between Mombasa and Nairobi, Kenya. (This is the largest infrastructure project in the country since its independence in 1963, funded by China, worth $ 3.2 billion, completed in  three years and a half)

- What does this project impress with?

- First - the volume. The railway line connecting trains from the port city of Mombasa through the capital Nairobi, Uganda and Rwanda to Burundi is 472 km long. The cost of the project is $ 10 billion. The project was put into operation in June 2017.

There are similar moments between the project in Kenya and the construction of the Elin Pelin-Kostenets railway line in Bulgaria. (The project "Modernization of the Elin Pelin - Kostenets railway section" has a total length of 51 km, at a design speed of 160 km / h for conventional trains. More than 20 km of tunnels and 23 bridges and viaducts will be built, with a total length of about 3 km. Modernization of 5 railway stations is planned, as well as the elimination of all intersections between rail transport, car traffic and pedestrians.

In Kenya, the purpose of the project is the same - carriage of passengers and goods. The project is highly specific because, both in Bulgaria and in Kenya, many animal species reside on the territory of the project, which requires compliance with the atypical environment. There, we have built special mechanisms for the passage of animals to be organized in such a way so as not to disturb their habitats.

- Are you not in conflict with environmentalists, as is often the case in our country?

-No, we are definitely not in conflict with nature conservationists. One of the challenges we faced was the protection of the environment during the construction, so that the impact on it was minimized both during construction and during the operation thereafter. The project in Kenya started from scratch, there was no ready-made infrastructure to modernize or renovate, unlike the Elin Pelin-Kostenets line, which needs to be modernized. According to the long-term plan, the railway will connect six countries in East Africa such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. It will further improve the East African railway network, increase the capacity of East African countries, and will contribute to connections with and construction in East Africa.

- I was expecting you to boast of the tunnel on the Hong Kong-Macao Bridge, which the experts say is the world's most famous" submerged tunnel".

- Yes, now this is the biggest  tunnel project below sea level. (This is the longest sea bridge in the world that includes artificial islands and underwater tunnels and is part of Beijing's ambitious initiative for the economic integration of 11 cities of the Pearl River Delta, including Hong Kong and Macao, two former European colonies returned to China in the 1990s.  About 40,000 vehicles use the bridge daily, including buses operating at 10-minute intervals. The construction continued for ten years, costing 6.4 billion euros, and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

- From an engineering point of view, what is the most revolutionary about the project regarding its construction? 

- There are several aspects I want to point out. The project was completed last year. This is the largest bridge connecting Hong Kong to Macau its length is 55 km, while its"submerged" part is 6.7 km. In terms of building the bridges, artificial islands and tunnels, more than 600 patents have been registered, which has a positive impact on our world reputation.

In order to imagine thes achievements from an engineering and technological point of view, we must have a look at a football pitch and multiply it by 33.

- What do you mean?

 After the special tunnel elements were made in the factories, huge ships with powerful technology carried the parts over the water and then plunged them below sea level. The size of each structural unit is as big as a football pitch. These enormous items are 33 in number. And 33 times they were connected below  water level to get the length of 6.7 km!  This is one of the most advanced technologies in the world and it is our patent.

- This is a matter of electronics, of robotics, of machines, I suppose?

- Yes. We use the world's largest vessel, with which we  that we're digging on the bottom. The big challenge was to move these machines, get them to the right place on the bottom, then immerse them precisely under the water and fit one another. The operation is truly unique. (Watch the video)

- Did you make any mistakes? This operation requires incredible precision.

- No, no mistakes. Since we had tried the whole process in advance, we did not make any mistakes. At the design stage, we have designed prevent against a number of typhoons in the area where wind power might reached the 16th degree, which means a wind speed of over 55 m / s. Just before we installed the facility at the end of 2018, there was a strong typhoon with a record speed, for the past 100 years - about 50 m / s. The facility  survived! Nothing changed. Once the typhoon passed, the facility  looked as it was before the storm. This has shown that not only theoretically but practically, the project has been properly designed and constructed.

- And what about the white dolphin population that is typical of this region? I read that about 40% of it was destroyed during the construction of the facility?

- Thais information is true. About 3000 white dolphins live in the area. We hired special ecologists, which were responsible hem and investigate possible adverse effects on the environment. The ecologists worked all the time on terrain as construction continued  which costed  more than 45 million euro. I can say that no harmful or negative impact on the population has been identified as many professional reports wereprepared during the construction. Preserving the environment is one of the leading indicators in our projects.

- They call the "submerged tunnel" "one of the wonders of the modern world." What does this mean for the contemporary world practice of such construction?

- Thank you for calling it that. We succeeded in connecting Hongkong to Makao with this project The project enjoys international publicity , , being mentioned as the largest sea bridge built with 420,000 tons of steel, equivalent to 60 times the weight of   Eiffel Tower; It is currently the world's longest deep-sea submerged  tunnel , which serves as a highway, with submersion at 48 below sea level compared to the well-known European Sound Tunnel, which is 10 meters below sea level. 

The 33 parts of the  submerged tunnel is each 180m long, 38m wide and 11.4m high, weighing 80,000 tons, the largest submerged tunnel in the world; it is constructed  to withstand an earthquake with a force of 8 on the Richter scale and wind with a force of 340 km/h.  

- How many people worked on the project?

- Excuse me, I do not have the exact data in hand. As far as I know, 12,000 workers were allocated only to the  artificial island close to  Macao. . We used the best teams in construction and as well as inbuilding the facility..

- The project was opened by  President Xi, which means China attaches particular importance to it. How did the state express its gratitude for the uniqueness of your project and the execution of the project?

- Not only were we rewarded in China, but the Project won the 2018 Global Best Bridge and Tunnel Project Award given by the US Engineering News-Record (ENR), "2018 Major Engineering Award" by the International Tunnel Association, and "New Civil Engineer" by the British Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

- You won a consortium project to build a fourth bridge on the Panama Canal. You won against tcompanies from Spain, Italy, South Korea. They say this project is the most technological one. Why?

- This will be one of the largest construction projects in Panama's history. The project is located on  the busiest channel in the world - 6% of the world's trade passes through it. The biggest challenge for us is not to stop the passage during the construction, because this will be disastrous for the trade in Panama. (Panama became the first Latin American country to take part in the partnership initiative for development of  develop the giant Chinese initiative "One Belt, One Road" - Editor's Note)

- How long it will take you to build this bridge ?

- 5 years. 

- Why did you decide to focus on the construction of railway lines in Bulgaria too? What is the challenge for such a huge campaign  as is the CCCC construction on a small section as Elin Pelin - Kostenets?

- The construction of railway infrastructures is one of the core businesses of CCCC. The Elin Pelin - Kostenets project is important not only for Bulgaria but also for Europe as your country occupies a strategic place. The line will be part of European Corridor No 8. CCCC has the capital and technology to build the Ihtiman - Kostenets part of the project in Bulgaria. We are convinced of our capabilities. We realized a similar railway project from Budapest to Belgrade. In Serbia, the total length of the section is 183 km. The first 34 km - between Stara Pazova and Belgrade - were the most difficult ones because we had to comply with current traffic and not to influence it during the construction. We had to have small working slots during which the traffic was briefly stopped.. This is of the essence of the project in Bulgaria too.

- Is there anything that surprises you in your work in Bulgaria? What difficulties have you encountered for those 5 years?

- No, we know that Bulgaria has a strategy for improving its infrastructure as part of Europe. But the use of European funding is not so effective in terms of timely provision of the funding.

- Why?

- The problem comes from the fact that funding for European projects is slowing down and does not comeimmediately. That  is the problem, and not in the efficiency.

- You participate in the project Elin Pelin-Kostenets in a consortium with the Bulgarian company "Trace Group" – Sofia. Have you had other similar partnerships since you came to Bulgaria?

- Yes, we have been here for 5 years. We have participated in several projects, but our best choice is the Trace Group. We considered participation in projects with other companies, but we eventually found that Trace is a good partner, as Trace is not only focused on the Bulgarian market but also aims to win a bigger market share in the region, and even compete at a larger international level. Trace participates effectively in projects in Serbia, Macedonia, Romania, so the company is very active not only in Bulgaria. This perfectly overlaps with our strategy.

- Is it difficult to do business in Bulgaria? Are there any obstacles and what would you advise the Bulgarian state in its efforts to improve the conditions for foreign investment?

- There are many ways in which Bulgaria can become stronger in the market. I think one of them is for the country to cooperate with China. China is currently one of the world's most advanced economies. China has a clear intention to engage with Central and Eastern European countries. One of these is the 16 + 1 initiative, whose conference was in Sofia under the auspices of your Prime Minister and with the participation of the Chinese Prime Minister. Sofia successfully hosted this event. The conference received big coverage form the Chinese media - newspapers, the Internet, a lot of Chinese people learned about Bulgaria, which could bring them to the country and make them invest in Bulgaria. 

- Is China's path easy to the heart of Europe? What are you going to bet on?

- As you can see, cooperation is intensifying. The  agreement between China and Bulgaria contributes to stepping up the process. China's initiative is related to investment in infrastructure projects in more than 80 countries. China is building the port of Piraeus.

- Do you want to have a big project in Bulgaria as well?

- This is desire of every company.

- What do you like about the Bulgarians as a nation?

- The Bulgarians are nice people, they accept different cultures well. In the centre of Sofia you have a Catholic and an Orthodox church, a synagogue and a mosque. People from different nations live in harmony here. Our work seems calm and in a friendly environment. I feel safe. I was in Germany 10 years ago - the environment  there was also safe, but a year ago I was again there and the situation was no longer the same. Here I feel calm. I live and work in Sofia. My family is here. You should not be surprised to see me walking on Vitosha Blvd. I love running in the park and riding a bicycle. In the summer, if I have time, I travel to the seaside for a short break. I learned to ski, something I could not do before.

- So you are a Chinese who is about to "naturalize" as a Bulgarian?

- Yes exactly!


The interview in Bulgarian language is available at epicenter.bg website here.