China's Xi appeals to foreign leaders for freer trade

Lucy Bush
May 17, 2017

The Belt and Road Forum, the highest-level global meeting on the Initiative since Xi proposed it in 2013, attracted more than 20 foreign heads of state and government as well as delegates from more than 100 countries.

"Amid increasing anti-globalisation sentiment, protectionism and extreme nationalism have been prevailing over free trade".

"Our ambition is for more trade, not less", he added. China is calling it the "plan of the century". Many of China's Asian neighbors are sorely in need of infrastructure investment and development aid.

And China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) announced it was concluding $20 billion in deals during the Forum, including a $4 billion agreement for a natural gas processing plant in Azerbaijan with the State Oil Co. of Azerbaijan, gas storage and gas-fired power projects with Russia's Gazprom, and a Kenya power project. It is also President Xi Jinping's signature foreign policy.

The Belt and Road, stretching from Asia to Europe, has the potential to be one of the largest economic development projects in history.

Speaking to 29 world leaders at a two-day summit in Beijing, Xi said: "The Belt and Road development does not shut out, nor is it directed against, any party".

But he also described China as a provider of public goods and a bringer of prosperity, security and environmental protection. "And think of improved roads in rural areas that can boost productivity, school enrolment and access to health services", she said.

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Some projects have imposed onerous financing costs, which leave the countries deep in debt. Others have relied mostly on Chinese labor, creating few local jobs. "U.S. firms have a long and successful track record in global infrastructure development, and are ready to participate in Belt and Road projects".

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Another major concern is that China is trying to create a new worldwide order with itself at the helm.

"It doesn't mean that we are completely irrelevant", he added.

Despite staying away from the Beijing showcase, India is involved in the Belt and Road initiative.

"This means that we shouldn't be complacent and should continue to work hard to make Singapore relevant", he said.

"So if China could find a way out to the west", Zhao says, "then it could relieve this pressure coming from the east". A change of presidents in the Philippines and the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which excludes China, have helped.

"I welcome the "Belt and Road initiative" as an opportunity to strengthen these ties and I welcome the progress that has already been made".

A top European Union diplomat told the Guardian: "We made clear that, for Europe, the Belt and Road initiative can only be a success if it's based on transparency and co-ownership".

India is one notable holdout.

Mr. Hu underscored that despite the Indian government's persisting scepticism of the BRI and opposition to the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, "breakthroughs are still likely to come considering that the Modi government's sub-regional cooperation plan aligns with the Initiative".

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This has led some to speculate that China will emerge as a global leader on fighting climate change, something that Beijing has embraced as the country has taken major strides in cutting emissions and promoting investment in renewable energy.

The Belt and Road will not be built in a day.

In a snub to India's concerns, the Chinese President said the belt and road initiative respected "territorial integrity".

"Think of new ports, roads and power grids that allow developing countries to better connect with global supply chains".

Zhao Hong cautions that for now, the initiative is largely a vision.

China conceived numerous projects long before including them under the initiative.

This has not stopped China from launching a massive propaganda and marketing effort targeting foreign audiences.

Belarus was one of the first states to support China's initiative.

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