China to gather friends
for biggest summit of year on New Silk Road
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[April 18, 2017]
By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) - China will gather its friends and allies together
for its biggest diplomatic event of the year in May, a summit on its New
Silk Road plan, with most Asian leaders due to attend but only one from
a G7 nation, the Italian prime minister.
President Xi Jinping has championed what China formally calls the "One
Belt, One Road" or OBOR, initiative to build a new Silk Road linking
Asia, Africa and Europe, a landmark program to invest billions of
dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power
China has dedicated $40 billion to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the
driving force behind the establishment of the $50 billion China-backed
Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced on Tuesday a list of those attending
the conference, including some of China's most reliable allies - Russian
President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev,
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko
Widodo are coming too, all generally good partners of China.
"One Belt, One Road is to date the most important public good China has
given to the world, first proposed by China but for all countries to
enjoy," Wang said.
"The culture and historical genes of One Belt, One Road come from the
old Silk Road, so it takes Eurasia as its main region," he said, adding
that representatives of 110 countries would attend.
While China says the New Silk Road is not political, it has run into
opposition from India due to a section of it in Pakistan, known as the
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, where some projects run through the
disputed Kashmir region.
Wang dismissed those concerns, saying the Pakistan project had no direct
connection to the dispute and India was welcome to participate in the
New Silk Road.
"Indian friends have said to us that One Belt, One Road is a very good
suggestion," he said.
Nevertheless, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not on the list of
Wang also made no mention of any attendance of officials from Japan,
South Korea or North Korea, all countries with which China has strained
ties. Nor was there mention of Australia, a strong U.S. ally that has
close trade links with China.
The list included only one leader from the Group of Seven (G7)
industrialised nations, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
Diplomatic sources in Beijing said China had hoped for at least some
senior Western leaders to attend, including British Prime Minister
Theresa May, to burnish the plan's credentials and make it less
British finance minister Philip Hammond will come as May's
representative, while Germany and France are having elections at the
time and will send high-level representatives, Wang said.
Wang confirmed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as among 28 leaders
coming, along with the Spanish, Greek, Hungarian, Serb and Polish prime
ministers and Swiss and Czech presidents.
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China's President Xi Jinping during the official welcoming ceremony
in front of the Presidential Palace, in Helsinki, Finland April 5,
2017. Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen/via REUTERS
is a positive, cooperative agreement, and we don't want to politicize it," Wang
told reporters when asked if China was upset at the absence of most major
is an economic cooperation forum, an international cooperation platform that
everyone is paying attention to, supports and hopes to participate in," he said.
China is sensitive to any suggestion that what it sees as its benign intentions
do not have a receptive global audience, especially in Western capitals.
China was privately upset in 2015 after most Western leaders rebuffed
invitations to attend a big military parade marking 70 years since the end of
World War Two. Western leaders were unhappy that the guest list that included
Putin and wary of the message China would send with the show of strength.
While China has portrayed the New Silk Road as a genuine effort to share the
bounty of China's economic development and to fund infrastructure gaps, many
Western countries are concerned about a lack of detail and transparency in the
project and are suspicious about China's broader political intents.
Diplomatic sources said the presence of Putin and other leaders from countries
with dubious human rights records, like the Philippines and Central Asian
states, had contributed to a reluctance among Western leaders to attend.
Still, at a time of uncertainty about the U.S. place in the world following
President Donald Trump's pledges to put America first, China sees an opportunity
to become more of a global leader and has found a receptive audience for its New
Leaders from countries that would appear to have little, if any, connection so
far to the plan are coming to the summit, including Chile and Argentina.
"Everyone wants to be China's friend now with Trump in office," said a senior
Asian diplomat in Beijing.
A senior Indonesian government official said China was aiming for a
"The Chinese are gunning for ... global leadership so I think this OBOR summit
is going to be huge," the official said.
(Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Jakarta; Editing by Robert Birsel)
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