Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday sought to allay growing concerns that his trillion—dollar Belt and Road project was pushing poor countries in a “debt trap” and pledged to make the connectivity scheme transparent.
At the opening ceremony of the second edition of the three-day Belt and Road Forum, Mr. Xi sounded defensive in his speech about his pet project that has come under growing criticism for the lack of transparency and indebting nations.
India for the second time skipped the event in protest against the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a key component of the Belt and Road that passes through the disputed Kashmir held by Pakistan and claimed by it.
The corridor connects the Chinese city of Kashgar with Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea.
At the gathering of nearly 40 heads of states and representatives of over 100 international organisations, Mr. Xi said: “In pursuing Belt and Road cooperation everything should be done in a transparent way and we should have zero tolerance for corruption.”
Proposed by Mr. Xi in 2013, the Belt and Road project aims to connect the world’s three biggest continents — Asia, Africa and Europe — through a vast network of highways, rail lines and sea lanes.
China has poured billions of dollars in over 60 participating countries where its companies are engaged in building infrastructures.
The sheer vastness of the project and the money involved in it have caused much awe among many as well as consternation in some countries that see the initiative as China’s tool to increase its geopolitical influence.
The reports about many partner countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives and Pakistan being under the burden of onerous Chinese loans under the projects have raised concerns about Beijing’s intent to create “debt traps”.
At the event, Mr. Xi tried to dispel those fears.
“We welcome the participation of the multilateral and national financial institutions in BRI investment and financing. And we encourage third market cooperation. With the involvement of the multiples stakeholders, we can surely deliver benefits to all.
“We have also formulated guiding principles of financing the development of the Belt and Road and published debt sustainability framework for participating countries of the BRI to provide guidance for BRI financing cooperation.
“The laws and regulation of participating countries should also be respected. We need to take people’s centric approach and give priority to poverty alleviation and job creation to see the joint pursuit of Belt and Road cooperation would deliver true benefits to the people of the participating countries,” the Chinese leader added.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan are at the event, India will give the forum a miss like the last time in 2017.
Indian opposes the CPEC and says that it cannot be the part of a project for its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
India not approving the corridor has become a sticky point in its relations with China.
China maintains that the project is purely economic in nature and won’t impact Beijing’s neutral stance on the Kashmir issue.