China defends Belt and Road initiative amid global criticism

Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to tout the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a foreign policy triumph, despite criticism that it has left some countries with unsustainable levels of debt since its launch 10 years ago. West at a major summit in Beijing.

The third Belt and Road Forum begins on October 17 and is expected to be attended by delegates from around the world as China looks to cement the plan, backed by Xi, as a key part of China’s foreign policy.


S. in Singapore. „This marks the 10-year anniversary of the first major foreign policy idea that Xi issued,” Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, told RFE/RL. “Everyone always focuses on personal projects, but [BRI] Ultimately it’s a Chinese vision of how to engage with the world and Beijing wants to celebrate that idea.”

Formally launched in 2013 following speeches in Kazakhstan and Indonesia shortly after he became China’s leader, the BRI has funded ports, power plants, railroads, highways and other infrastructure projects and invested hundreds of billions of dollars in dozens of countries. To increase trade and investment by improving China’s transport links with the rest of the world.

Ahead of the upcoming Belt and Road Forum — the first since 2019 — the Chinese government released a statement praising the plan’s achievements as a sustainable development model and framing it against the West, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry director Li Gexin. International Economic Affairs, tells reporters On October 10, the BRI was „creating a new paradigm of international cooperation beyond the old mentality of geopolitical games.”

Many experts say the BRI has channeled much-needed funds to poor countries, but it has also come at a cost. It has for the last decade Caught up with scandals Corruption, environmental degradation and contributing to the growing debt crisis in the Global South.

The BRI has seen funding declines since 2016 and fewer projects funded following several high-profile scandals linked to host governments failing to pay back host governments, such as a nearly $1 billion highway and a port in Montenegro. Sri Lanka.

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Analysts say these problems have led Beijing to become more risk-averse.

A study Boston University’s Center for Global Development Policy said in October that the BRI had provided more than $330 billion in loans to developing countries by 2021, more than the World Bank in some years. But the study noted that many Chinese borrowers are now struggling with their overall debt, and that many Chinese-financed power plants overseas are adding huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite these hurdles, the BRI is far from disappearing, he said, adding that Xi may use the Belt and Road Forum to respond to these criticisms, while framing the project as a „new” „foundation within Xi’s foreign policy vision.” A China-Centered Global Order.”

„BRI has always been a concept with very fluid goals and very fluid goal posts,” Banducci said. „So, Beijing can move the goalposts and redefine what success looks like.”

What to look for in the forum

The BRI has been central to Chinese efforts to raise its international profile for years, and experts say Beijing is carefully managing the optics of the Belt and Road Forum.

The focus is to ensure that a large number of officials from around the world attend.

Beijing has not yet released an official guest list, but the Chinese Foreign Ministry has said „Representatives from more than 130 countries and several international organizations” will attend. However, it is not clear how senior these officers will be.

The first Belt and Road Forum in 2017 was attended by 30 heads of state or government, and the second meeting in 2019 was attended by 37. Beijing is trying to increase that number as it celebrates the 10th anniversary of the BRI, but it may face some difficulties. , especially as many high-ranking officials around the world find themselves dealing with the crisis between Israel and Hamas.

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It may also be difficult to ensure strong representation across Europe. While pro-Beijing governments in Hungary and Serbia have said they will send high-level delegations led by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, it is unclear who else, particularly among EU members, will attend.

European nations have produced some big leaders in previous meetings, but China’s handling of the pandemic, its support for Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and several scandals related to the BRI plans have seen Beijing’s standing plummet. Relationships fight. Italy, which was the only group of seven countries to join the BRI, announced its withdrawal from the program earlier this year.

„A lot has happened since 2019 and many countries have been shocked by China’s leadership and how it navigates certain issues,” Niva Yao, non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, told RFE/RL. „This change has changed how China can now be used and marketed [BRI]. It’s no longer seen as this public good that China provides to the world.”

One world leader who has long confirmed his visit is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will make his first visit to China since the February 2022 invasion of Ukraine and is expected to raise a range of issues with Xi, including the future. Siberia-2 sought gas power pipe.

On October 15 Interview With the state-owned China Media Corporation in Moscow, Putin took aim at the history of Western development aid around the world, praising G and the PRI. The program does not have the same „colonial flavor” as other programs.

Adapt to the future

Launched a decade ago, the BRI’s official goal is to boost trade and investment by improving China’s transport links with the rest of the world and build China’s economic and political influence in the process.

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While the BRI’s main story has been about building and financing infrastructure, Yao says the project itself shows that „China is very confident about its own practices and willing to offer them to the world.”

„The BRI is more than a global infrastructure and connectivity project. Instead, the BRI conveyed a clear Chinese belief that China is willing to express its own vision and values ​​to the world,” Yao said.

This approach was showcased ahead of the Belt and Road Forum, with a new Chinese government statement on the BRI saying the plan „offers a new approach to dominating global economic growth, controlling economic rules, and enjoying the benefits of growth.”

But Chinese officials also responded to criticism against the BRI in the statement, saying China would adhere to a „stable credit policy” and work with debtor countries toward „a stable and risk-controlling investment and financial system.”

Christophe Nedobile, director of the Asia Institute at Griffith University in Australia, told RFE/RL that Chinese banks are responding to credit crises in many countries and because China’s own economy is slowing and there is less money to lend to China. Also select Aug Projects and partners and are increasingly prioritizing investments in renewable energy and digital initiatives.

This shift away from large-scale lending by Chinese policy banks seen in the early years of the BRI is consistent with the involvement of Chinese private companies in recent years, which looks set to continue in the future, Nedobile says.

„This is because Chinese banks are shifting their focus away from developing countries and towards the domestic market,” Nedobile said. „But many of these private companies are investing now because they are more competitive globally than they used to be. [the BRI] was first launched.”

By RFE/RL

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