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Xi Jinping pledges US$113 billion as he woos the world on board China’s ‘Belt and Road’ grand plan

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President Xi Jinping has painted a rosy picture as he sought to woo countries on board his grand “Belt and Road Initiative” to boost international trade and investment, offering at least 780 billion yuan (US$113 billion) in extra funding for the ambitious plan.

In his keynote speech at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation on Sunday morning, Xi said his brainchild was “in line with the interests of all countries” as he called for international cooperation to channel funds and combat protectionism along the new Silk Road routes.

China’s Silk Road Fund would increase funding by 100 billion yuan, Chinese banks would extend 300 billion yuan in overseas capital, the China Development Bank would splash out 250 billion yuan, and the Export and Import Bank of China would add 130 billion yuan in special loans to Belt and Road projects.

In a poetic description of China’s grand economic diplomacy, Xi said the Belt and Road Initiative was a right step in moving towards a future of “happiness, peace and harmony”.

His idea was “not to open a new kitchen”, the president said, but to seek to strategically connect existing plans, including those of Russia, Turkey, Mongolia and Vietnam.

The Belt and Road plan “would not repeat the old way of geopolitical games, but would seek cooperative win-win”. It “would not form a small group to undermine stability but would instead create a harmonious family”, he said.

The two-day conference that began in Beijing on Sunday has gathered leaders from 29 countries and regions including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.

The United States also sent a delegation, led by Matt Pottinger, special assistant to US President Donald Trump.

The delegation was part of a 10-point list of understanding announced on Friday in which China promised to help narrow its trade surplus by increasing imports from the US and opening up more of its financial sector to foreign players.

The Belt and Road Initiative – a plan Xi unveiled in 2013 to build infrastructure and expand trade across countries in Asia, Africa and Europe – has been welcomed by cash-starved emerging countries. Those countries are home to 60 per cent of the world’s people and need more than US$26 trillion of infrastructure investment by 2030, according to Asian Development Bank estimates.

But China’s push to plug that gap and its rising political clout has generated concern among other powers, including the US, Russia and India, that the initiative could erode their influence in the region.

India is represented only by local embassy staff and academics at the forum, reflecting New Delhi’s deep unease about the far-reaching project.

The initiative has also been met with scepticism for its vague definition, the absence of a list of projects, lack of coordination among government departments, and limited capital from non-Chinese financial institutions and companies.

Huang Rihan, researcher with the Beijing-based Centre for China and Globalisation, said the forum was, however, likely to give some guidance on the direction of future international cooperation.

“The participation of world leaders at the forum will be hailed as an achievement by China,” Huang said. “We’ll have to wait and see what the countries will do afterwards.”

Jonathan Hillman, director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, said:the initiative was a double-edged sword.

“It is broad and ambitious, but the practical implementation is very difficult, to get a lot of different countries to agree on anything that is game-changing,” Hillman said.

“I can imagine there would be signing of MOU-type (memorandum of understanding) or cooperative agreements, but I imagine they would remain very general because of difficulties to get agreement on high-level details.”

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Muslim Global: Xi Jinping pledges US$113 billion as he woos the world on board China’s ‘Belt and Road’ grand plan
Xi Jinping pledges US$113 billion as he woos the world on board China’s ‘Belt and Road’ grand plan
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