Xi Jinping rolls out global welcome mat for new Silk Road grand plan
Beijing-led trade initiative ‘in line with interests of all countries’, Chinese president says
Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged countries around the world to join an ambitious China-led revival of ancient trade routes, pledging at least US$113 billion in extra funding for the new Silk Road initiative.
In his keynote speech to the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing on Sunday, Xi promised free trade, openness and shared prosperity.
He projected China as a willing driver of global trade and investment – a sharp contrast to the isolationist agenda in Washington and the growing fractures in the European Union.
“We will build an open platform, defend and develop an open world economy, jointly create an environment good for opening-up and development, and push for a just, reasonable and transparent international trade and investment system so that production materials can circulate in an orderly way, be allocated with high efficiency and markets are deeply integrated,” he told representatives from more than 100 countries, including 29 heads of state and government.
Among those in the audience were Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
World Bank president Jim Yong Kim and International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde also attended.
The US delegation to the forum is headed by Matt Pottinger, the US National Security Council senior director for East Asia. Pottinger said a belt and road working group had been formed in partnership between the US embassy in Beijing and US companies.
As part of the two-day gathering, China will seal trade and investment deals with at least 30 countries.
Xi also promised China would inject 60 billion yuan (US$8.7 billion) in aid to countries along the new Silk Road routes and host a major import fair next year for participants in the initiative.
Chen Fengying, from the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said China was trying to show its commitment to trade and openness “when the world is at the crossroads of globalisation”.
Chen said China’s push for globalisation was particularly valuable given the US’ retreat from the international stage since Donald Trump took top office in Washington this year.
Xi launched the new Silk Road concept – known officially as the “Belt and Road Initiative” – four years ago to promote trade and infrastructure links between China and Central and Southeast Asia to Africa and beyond.
It has since been endorsed by various international agencies such as the World Bank and attracted interest from a range of emerging and developed economies.
Xi said the belt and road plan “would not repeat the old way of geopolitical games, but would seek cooperative win-wins”.
“[It] would not form a small group to undermine stability but would instead create a harmonious family,” he said.
But risks and tensions hang over the initiative. Ten labourers were gunned down in southwestern Pakistan on Saturday while working on roads under the belt and road umbrella, Reuters reported, citing local security officials.
And the United States, Japan and India are still wary of China’s wider strategic ambitions.
India is represented only by local embassy staff and academics, reflecting New Delhi’s deep unease about the project.
In an indirect response to these concerns, Xi said China would “not to open a new kitchen”, but instead would seek to strategically connect existing plans, including those of Russia, Turkey, Mongolia and Vietnam.
Xi said ancient travellers along the routes brought prosperity and civilisation because “they didn’t use warhorses or long spears but camel teams and goodwill. They didn’t rely on gunboats but cargo ships and friendship.”
Joerg Wuttke, former president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said the summit signalled that China was trying to grab the world’s attention.
“I hope China does not just see it as inviting the world, projecting soft power, but see it as something like the Tang dynasty to embrace ideas and ... business,” Wuttke said.
Additional reporting by Frank Tang and Wendy Wu