New Silk Road praised by 27 countries, suspected by many others, boycotted by India

India did not attend the Beijing summit because it is against the US$ 57 billion Kashmir corridor project between China and Pakistan. President Xi Jinping got 27 countries to sign up to fund the ambitious Chinese infrastructure plan. He says China will “share” and not interfere in the social models of the countries concerned, renewing China’s push for globalisation.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) summit currently underway in Beijing to build a new land and sea Silk Road fulfils Chinese President Xi Jinping’s dream of unifying China, Central Asia, Europe, India, and Africa.

Thirty heads of state and government and delegates from over 100 countries attended the summit opening yesterday, in addition to the leaders of the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. India was absent however.

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged US$ 124 billion on Sunday for his new Silk Road plan to forge a path of peace, inclusiveness and free trade, and called for the abandonment of old models based on rivalry and diplomatic power games.

For several observers, Xi is using international summits to strengthen China's global leadership ambitions. His support for globalisation appears to run counter to US President Donald Trump, who is promoting "America first", and has questioned free trade initiatives.

Still, US delegate Matt Pottinger said US companies are ready to get involved in China's Silk Road project. "US firms can offer the best-value goods and services required over the life of a project”.

Pottinger, who is US President Donald Trump's special assistant, noted that "US firms have a long and successful track record in global infrastructure development, and are ready to participate in Belt and Road projects.”

For Xi, countries "should build an open platform of cooperation and uphold and grow an open world economy". At the same time, "We should jointly create an environment that will facilitate opening up and development, establish a fair, equitable and transparent system of international trade and investment rules," he added.

UK Finance Minister Philip Hammond said on Sunday Britain is a “natural partner”. Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif praised China's vision and ingenuity for having put in place an unprecedented project in history.

Fears of hegemony

Some Western diplomats expressed disapproval of both the summit and the plan as a whole, considering it an attempt by China to promote its influence worldwide.

Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said that whilst the new Silk Road offers business opportunities, there are national interests to defend.

Still, “China is willing to share its development experience with the rest of the world,” Xi said, “but we will not intervene in other nations’ internal affairs, export our social system and development model, nor force others to accept them.”

"In advancing the Belt and Road, we will not re-tread the old path of games between foes. Instead we will create a new model of cooperation and mutual benefit," Xi said.

One of the issue faced by the OBOR initiative is financing. Up to now, China has pledged US$ 113 billion. However, according to the Asian Development Bank, at least US$ 8 trillion is needed by 2020.

In fact, "We need joint effort among Belt and Road countries to boost financing cooperation," Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of China's central bank, said.

To sustain the projects, Belt and Road nations should allow companies to play a key role, as government resources are limited, Zhou added. The active use of local currencies will also help to mobilise local savings, lower remittance and exchange costs, and safeguard financial stability.

At the forum, finance ministries from 27 countries, including China, approved a set of principles that will guide project financing along the new Silk Road.

Germany, which was not among the countries that approved the financing guidelines, said its firms were willing to support the Belt and Road initiative, but more transparency was needed.

The summit was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev. There were also several European leaders, including the prime ministers of Spain, Italy, Greece and Hungary.

India’s criticisms

India boycotted the meeting because of its opposition to one of OBOR’s core projects: the economic corridor between China and Pakistan, which runs through the controversial Kashmir area occupied by Pakistan.

"No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity," said Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay, adding that there were concerns about host countries taking on "unsustainable debt."

For China’s Global Times newspaper, "It is strange that the onlooker is more anxious than the players. While India cares about its neighbours' debt burden, the neighbours appear willing to take on more".

On Saturday, Pakistan signed new deals with China on Saturday worth nearly US$ 500 million, including airport, port and highway development.

Pakistan’s repayments on its debt will peak at around US$ 5 billion in 2022, but will be more than offset by transit fees charged on the new transport corridor.

Nepal too signed an agreement with China to build a cross-border rail link that may cost up to US$ 8 billion.