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Xi Seeks To Reassure Critics Over $1 Trillion Belt And Road Project

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on April 26.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on April 26.

Chinese President Xi Jinping says his plan to recreate the old Silk Road is designed to increase and enhance international trade cooperation, as he bid to reassure critics of the $1 trillion infrastructure project.

Xi also told attendees at his Belt and Road Forum on April 26 that Beijing would eliminate anticompetitive subsidies to Chinese firms, a practice that has angered many foreign trading partners, including the United States and the European Union.

"We will overhaul and abolish unjustified regulations, subsidies, and practices that impede fair competition and distort the market," Xi said.

"We will treat all companies, enterprises, and business entities equally and foster an enabling business environment based on market operation and governed by law," he said.

The massive Belt and Road initiative seeks to create new rail, road, port, and energy infrastructure that links China with Europe, Africa, and other parts of Asia.

The high-profile meeting brings together heads of states including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, whose country became the first G7 member to sign up to the initiative.

Also scheduled to attend among the 37 heads of state are Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev.

EU members Germany and France are sending ministers while the United States has not dispatched any officials from Washington.

The United States and many EU countries have criticized China's project and its lending for regional infrastructure efforts, warning that it has saddled some developing countries with debts they cannot afford to repay.

Xi sought to ease those concerns, pledging to prevent debt risks and saying the massive infrastructure project was "not an exclusive club."

Xi said that "we also need to ensure the commercial and fiscal sustainability of all projects so that they will achieve the intended goals as planned."

He also looked to reassure critics who have complained about what has been called a lack of transparency involved in deals between Chinese companies and some local governments, raising corruption concerns.

"Everything should be done in a transparent way and we should have zero tolerance for corruption," Xi said.

"Green" development will also be promoted, he said, amid concerns that infrastructure projects are causing long-lasting environmental harm in the region.

"We must adhere to the concept of openness, greenness, and cleanliness," he said.

Critics have cited several negative developments that have occurred as a result of initiative projects, such as the Sri Lankan government being forced to hand over a deep-sea port to China for 99 years after it was unable to repay loans.

Xi reiterated that China would not engage in the competitive devaluation of its yuan currency -- another issue Washington and others in the West have warned against.

Since Xi launched the initiative in 2013, China has invested $90 billion in projects while Chinese banks have provided at least $200 billion in loans to foreign governments.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters
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