Silk Road 'project of the century'

Top News | 15 May 2017

President Xi Jinping laid the framework for Chinese-style globalization and his ambition to lead it during a speech yesterday inaugurating his cornerstone diplomatic trade initiative for a new Silk Road.

Grounding the plan in China's history, Xi described the Belt and Road Initiative as a "project of the century" that had its inspiration in the ancient trade routes linking the country with the world.

He pledged an additional 100 billion yuan (HK$112 billion) for China's Silk Road Fund, 380 billion yuan in new lending for participating nations, and 60 billion yuan in coming years to developing countries and international organizations that join the program.

Xi repeated his call for multilateral trade, describing his initiative as a force for peace in "a world fraught with challenges."

He told the almost two dozen world leaders gathered at the forum that countries should "uphold and grow an open world economy."

The speech built on an image of Xi as a champion of global free trade that he has sought to hone since US President Donald Trump's election, most notably in a January speech in Davos.

It set the tone for the major two-day forum to discuss the Belt and Road plan, which aims to connect China with Europe, Asia and Africa through infrastructure and investment.

Delegates included representatives from more than 100 countries and heads of state including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Representation from India, however, was conspicuously absent as were all Group of Seven heads of state with the exception of Italy.

During the opening ceremony, the first speakers to follow Xi were Putin and Erdogan, who pledged support for China's initiative while showcasing their own regional projects.

Putin called the initiative "timely and promising" while highlighting the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.

Erdogan told delegates that the world's economic center of gravity was shifting to the East and said he would like Turkey's planned infrastructure expansion to be linked with the Belt and Road.

Other world leaders lined up to praise the project.

UK finance minister Philip Hammond called the initiative "truly groundbreaking," stressing the country's desire for new global trade ties as it prepares to leave the European Union.

Pakistan's Sharif called the forum a "historic event" that would "tear down barriers to trade and commerce."

Addressing concerns that the initiative will become a bonanza for Chinese companies or a strategic play for regional domination, Xi declared that the plan would be open to all countries and would complement each nation's development goals.

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde called for high-quality infrastructure that respects the environment while also welcoming the Chinese initiative.

Xi's speech also drew implicit contrast between Chinese-style development objectives and those of the West, saying the initiative would not resort to "outdated geopolitical maneuvering."

He stressed that China does not seek to export its development model to other nations while also calling for mutual respect of one another's sovereignty, territory and "core interests."

Eighteen countries including Britain agreed yesterday on the guiding principles for financing development of the initiative.

The Asian Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, European Investment Bank, New Development Bank, World Bank, and China's Finance Ministry also signed an agreement on promoting Belt and Road.

China will also encourage financial institutions to conduct some 300 billion yuan (US$43 billion) in overseas business using yuan, Xinhua News Agency said.

Xi proposed the initiative, then known as the Silk Road, in 2013. China's investment in Belt and Road countries has surpassed US$50 billion, according to Xinhua.

Credit Suisse Group estimates the plan could funnel investments worth as much as US$502 billion into 62 countries over five years.

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