A major conference on China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative was held in Beijing over the weekend.
The Conference consisted of a plenary session on Saturday and a summit attended by leaders on Sunday.
Australia was represented by the Trade Minister Steve Ciobo who told the media that the initiative was worthy of substantial consideration.
It was obvious that China saw the conference as an opportunity to advance its credentials as a global leader on trade and open markets, taking advantage of Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ isolationism.
Yesterday President Xi Jinping pledged $124 billion to implement the first stage of his ‘Belt Road Initiative’ which he said demonstrated China’s commitment to peace, inclusiveness and free trade, and called for the abandonment of old models based on rivalry and diplomatic power games.
“We should build an open platform and uphold the world trading system” President Xi told the opening session of the conference.
He said that the world must create a system of open, fair and transparent trade and investment rules and must support the multilateral trading system, free trade regions and facilitate free trade.
Xi pledged a major funding boost of $15 billion to the Silk Road Fund and 380 billion yuan ($50 billion) from two policy banks.
He also promised 80 billion yuan in development aid for countries along the Silk Road.
Financial institutions would be encouraged to expand their yuan funds for private businesses by another 300 billion yuan.
President Xi’s overall vision for the Belt Road Initiative is still unclear.
There are stories of superfast trains running across Asia and the Middle East to ports in Holland and Germany.
The British Finance Minister, Philip Hammond, was quick to tell the conference that his country was a natural partner in the Silk Road.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called it a great initiative and pledged his country’s support.
However the Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Gopal Bagley, raised questions about threats to sovereignty and un-repayable debt from the Chinese initiative.
The Chinese replied that they intended to import $2 trillion worth of products from Belt and Road Initiative countries over the next five years and this would cover any debt repayments.
President Xi was adamant that China would not interfere with the sovereignty of other countries.
“We will share our development experience with all countries” he said. “But we will not interfere in other countries’ internal affairs. We will not export our system of society or development model and we will not impose our views on them.”
President Xi seemed to confuse the model of the Silk Road as a replication of the route taken by Marco Polo from China to Europe by saying that Africa and the Americas could be included in the Belt Road Initiative.
He said that financial institutions around the world could participate in funding projects along the Silk Road which would be an engine for global growth.
While the Northern European countries have been reluctant to support the initiative the leaders of the Southern European countries, Russia and the UK, are supporters.