‘One Belt’ must bring real benefits to people of partner nations, Xi says

President calls for renewed push behind China’s grand ambition to build economic corridor amid wave of setbacks to projects in the region

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 2:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 August, 2016, 8:56am

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to intensify China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative and ensure it brings real benefits to the people of participating countries.

China-led investment projects, mostly infrastructure and energy, have suffered a series of setbacks, with the blueprint marred by concerns that Beijing is using its economic power to gain diplomatic influence.

Analysts said the show of goodwill by Xi was necessary, but far from sufficient to reassure partner countries.

China’s one belt, one road plan covers more than half of the population, 75 per cent of energy resources and 40 per cent of world’s GDP

At a work conference on Wednesday about the initiative, Xi said measures were needed to ensure the projects were properly implemented.

“[The scheme] should not only benefit the Chinese people, but also the people of all countries along the routes,” Xi was quoted by Xinhua.

The blueprint aims to create an economic corridor stretching from China’s Southeast Asian neighbours to Europe and Africa. Although it was greeted with fanfare at its launch in 2014, the initiative has fuelled suspicion that it is a vehicle for extending Beijing’s geopolitical influence.

Others question the plan’s feasibility, pointing to a lack of concrete measures, financial returns, and continuing setbacks.

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In March, the Thai government announced it would not accept Chinese financing for a US$15 billion railway project and would instead invest in a shorter rail network itself.

China’s high-speed railway project in Indonesia, a US$5.1 billion joint venture with four Indonesian state-owned firms, only received a construction permit for the first 5km because of lack of details on the design and data from the field.

A number of Chinese-backed projects in Myanmar, including the US$3.6 billion Myitsone Dam, have also been halted amid ­protests by local communities who complained that the projects brought them few tangible ­benefits.

Ambiguous principles and expressions of intention are not enough
Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations, Renmin University

For projects in regions with significant security challenges, including Central Asia, Xi called for comprehensive safety risk assessments and emergency planning.

Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, said it was only natural for other countries to have doubts over the scheme, especially given tension in the disputed South China Sea. Beijing has angered several nations in the region by more forcefully pressing its claims to the waters.

“Generally, ambiguous principles and expressions of intention are not enough [to reassure countries]. It depends on very complex and concrete negotiations on numerous issues,” Shi said.

“Only through detailed, concrete arrangements accepted by both parties can the mistrust over political, diplomatic, economic and financial matters be dispelled effectively.”

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Shi said that although the Chinese side was committed to the blueprint, bilateral and multilateral negotiations were “lagging seriously behind”.

“It is absolutely not possible for you to start construction in other countries’ territories without their consent,” Shi said.

“And the consent cannot be only a general agreement. It also involves numerous important and not so important matters, sensitive and not so sensitive problems, as well as the whole international political atmosphere,” he said.