China’s Xi defends Belt and Road, says ‘not exclusive club’

BEIJING, Chinese President Xi Jinping sought

Friday to ease growing concerns about his ambitious Belt and Road Initiative,

vowing to prevent debt risks and saying his global infrastructure project is

not an exclusive club.

Xi made his remarks at a summit on his signature foreign policy, which aims

to reinvent the ancient Silk Road to connect Asia to Europe and Africa

through massive investments in maritime, road and rail projects.

The initiative offers to bring muchneeded modern infrastructure to

developing countries, but critics say it mainly favours Chinese companies

while saddling nations with debt and causing environmental damage.

China has rejected accusations that Belt and Road is a debt trap and a

geopolitical tool for Beijing's ambitions of becoming a global superpower.

The Belt and Road is not an exclusive club, Xi said at the gathering of

37 world leaders.

In a nod to the concerns over loans, Xi said we also need to ensure the

commercial and fiscal sustainability of all projects so that they will

achieve the intended goals as planned.

Finance Minister Liu Kun said Thursday that China would present the forum a

debt sustainability framework to prevent debt risks � a move welcomed by

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde.

The opacity of deals between Chinese companies and local governments has

also raised alarm.

Everything should be done in a transparent way and we should have zero

tolerance for corruption, Xi said.

China will also promote green development, he said, amid warnings that

some of the massive projects are causing environmental damage in Asia.

Debt troubles

Leaders from 37 countries have come to Beijing for the threeday forum,

with officials from scores of other nations in attendance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, whose country became the first G7

member to sign up to Belt and Road, are among the headliners.

But EU powers Germany and France are sending ministers instead.

The United States, which sent a senior White House official to the first

BRI summit in 2017, has not dispatched any officials from Washington.

Amid tensions over trade and other diplomatic spats, Washington has

dismissed BRI as a vanity project and rebuked Rome for signing up to the

scheme.

Since Xi launched Belt and Road in 2013, China has invested $90 billion in

projects while banks have provided upwards of $300 billion in loans,

according to Chinese officials.

But examples of debt trouble abound.

Sri Lanka turned over a deepsea port to China for 99 years after it was

unable to repay loans. Pakistan needs an international bailout.

And Montenegro has had to make difficult choices after taking on crushing

Chinese debt to pay a Chinese company to build a new highway.

Pushing back has proved a successful election issue in Asia, including in

Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Malaysia, as the trademark infrastructure push is

used to whip up fears about eroding sovereignty.

The new Malaysian prime minister cancelled some planned works and

renegotiated a rail project cutting 30 percent off the price tag.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)