Xi’s government defended his belt and road initiative against complaints on debt problems

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Chinese officials on Monday defended President Xi’s initiative to build railways and other infrastructure across Asia against complaints after Malaysia canceled two high-profile projects.

Ning Jizhe, director of the National Bureau of Statistics of China and Vice Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, rejected what he said were foreign news reports that blamed the initiative for debt problems.

These remarks corresponded to the President’s call for efforts to uphold dialogue and consultation, and build trust when he addressed a symposium held in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, marking the fifth anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

By June 2018, total goods trade with neighboring countries along the routes amounted to US$ 5 trillion, total investment in cooperative economic zones reached US$ 28.9 billion, creating over 200,000 local jobs, according to a press conference during the symposium.

By 26th August, a total of ten thousand container freight trains have reached 43 countries in 15 countries. And China has become the biggest trade partner with 25 countries along the routes.

“China has signed 118 contracts with 103 countries and organizations”, said Ning Jizhe, “among the 278 projects, 265 projects or 95% have been completed or come into normal execution, the rest also met with a good push.”

Qian Keming from the Ministry of Commerce added that in the past 5 years, China has invested over US$ 70 billion in countries along the routes, an annual increase of 7.2%. In 2017 alone, over 300,000 students from these countries came to China for study. It is expected that by 2020, a number of 85 million people would travel along these routes, spending about US$ 110 billion.

According to Qian, Asia countries need US$ 1.7 trillion on infrastructure annually, but only half the amount is available; and for Africa, only a third of the annual needed US$ 130-170 billion can be satisfied.

At the symposium, President Xi called for joint contribution, shared benefits, win-win cooperation, exchange and mutual learning and to promote political mutual trust, economic integration, people-to-people exchanges with the Belt and Road countries in order to advance the initiative step by step, producing achievements, according to Xinhua.

“The broad support for the BRI shows aspiration from countries involved, developing countries in particular, for peace and development,” Xi said, noting the BRI is an initiative for economic cooperation, instead of a geopolitical alliance or military league, and it is an open and inclusive process rather than an exclusive bloc or “China club.”

“It does not differentiate countries by ideology nor play the zero-sum game. As long as countries are willing to join, they are welcome,” Xi said.

Work should be done to boost exchanges in areas of education, science, technologies, culture, sports, tourism, health and archaeology, he said.

But more and more Chinese have started to criticise Xi’s billion-dollar investments overseas, arguing that corrupt officials are taking the chance to transfer dirty money out of the country while ignoring the poor at home.

In the western world, reactions to BRI have also become less enthusiastic. According to Geoff Wade on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security of the Australian Government, broader concerns relate to the longer-term aims of China, with the possibility that the BRI agenda is aimed at creating a Eurasia-wide, China-led bloc to counter the US. Some see this initiative as a profound challenge to the current global political and economic status quo.

Former World Trade Organization chief, Supachai Panitchpakdi, has stated that the initiative and, specifically, its projects along the Mekong River, all serve China’s own interests.

On the economic front, China has been criticised for using its massive financial assets to dominate smaller economies through long-term control of infrastructure, natural resources and associated land assets, and through offering less than desirable credit terms for infrastructure loans. Further, the ‘production capacity cooperation’ which China lauds as an integral aspect of BRI, often involves the simple transfer of Chinese-owned production capacity to countries where production is cheaper and markets are closer. Such processes can also result in China exerting some control over local markets, labour and export policies, according to Geoff Wade.

Despite the claimed economic nature of the BRI agenda, critics see the initiative as being simultaneously a strategic program. China clearly portrays BRI as both being premised on and further validating China’s claims to the islands of the South China Sea, while on the other side of the Indian Ocean, Djibouti is providing China with both a trade port as well as its first overseas military base.

By Cloudy Seagail

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