China vows to address BRI’s ‘debt trap’ as it kicks off 2nd Belt and Road Forum

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India has been boycotting the BRI to protest over the USD 60 billion CPEC

BEIJING, April 25 (AGENCIES): Leaders from across the world converged here on Thursday as China kicked off its 2nd high profile Belt and Road Forum (BRF) to showcase its trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as Beijing attempts to allay growing global concerns over the “predatory financing” of its connectivity projects.

India has been boycotting the BRI to protest over the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being laid through the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The CPEC, which connects Gwadar Port in Pakistan’s Balochistan with China’s Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of BRI.

This time, the US also joined India in skipping the BRF. The Trump administration has been extremely critical of the BRI and is of the view that China’s “predatory financing” is leaving smaller counties under huge debt endangering their sovereignty. President Donald Trump’s 2017 national security strategy claimed that China was seeking to pull the region into its orbit through state-led investment and loans.

Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping is busy having bilateral meetings with a host of heads of state and governments who have converged in Beijing to attend the three-day event. China on Thursday signalled that it is seeking to address the concerns of debt financing with a promise of “sustainable financing” for smaller countries to ease debt burden.

Concerns over BRI financing became vocal after China acquired Sri Lanka’s strategic Hambantota port on a 99-year lease as a debt swap in 2017. China’s Finance Minister Liu Kun told a BRF meeting that China is working out at a “stable and sustainable financing” system to fund project under BRI.

He said Chinese regulators will work with banks and multinational institutions to “build a high-quality, high-standard, sustainable financing system”.

According to a report in Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, China is working out a joint communique to be released on April 27, the concluding day of the event, which would focus on debt concerns. China is working to address mounting concern that its ambitious infrastructure drive creates debt traps for participating countries, the report quoted officials involved in drafting of the communique as saying.

Language related to debt sustainability, transparency and the rule of law would be included in the document, the report said. The BRI was launched by President Xi when he came to power in 2013. It aims to link Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.

China is doling out huge sums of money for infrastructure projects in countries from Asia to Africa and Europe, enhancing its global influence. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Nepal President Bidhya Devi Bhandari, Myanmar state councillor Aung San Suu Kyi are among the top leaders taking part in the event.

Besides, France, Germany, the UK, Spain, Japan, South Korea and the EU will send high-level representatives to the forum.

In 2017, Beijing had invited India to take part in six separate forums of the BRF, which India had boycotted.  Informed sources said this time China did not extend any invitation to India at the leadership or ministerial level. On April 19 at a press conference, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, “American diplomats, local government and business leaders have confirmed their participation in the 2nd BRF.”

However a spokesman of the US Embassy here has been quoted as saying in the media that Washington has no plans to send officials to BRF.

“We call upon all countries to ensure that their economic diplomacy initiatives adhere to internationally-accepted norms and standards, promote sustainable, inclusive development, and advance good governance and strong economic institutions,” he said.

Earlier, India’s Ambassador to China Vikram Misri had hinted at India staying away from the 2nd BRF. “No country can participate in an initiative that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he told officials here last month.

According to Wang, 37 heads of state and global bodies, including the UN and the IMF, would attend the BRF. Close to 5,000 participants from over 150 countries and organisations have confirmed their participation. Wang said the total trade volume between China and the BRI participating countries has surpassed USD 6 trillion and investment exceeded USD 80 billion.

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