Xi seeks to address concerns over China's new 'Silk Road' plan

Chinese President Xi Jinping makes a speech at the celebration of the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on July 1.
Chinese President Xi Jinping makes a speech at the celebration of the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on July 1. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (Bloomberg) - Chinese President Xi Jinping is seeking to assuage international concern that his three-year-old signature initiative to revive an ancient trading route linking China and Europe is only about serving his nation's interests.

Speaking at a conference on the "One Belt, One Road" initiative in Beijing on Wednesday (Aug 16), Xi called for a step up in the implementation of projects to provide "a solid sense of gain" to all the countries involved. He also requested better risk assessment and security for the projects along the route that passes through countries prone to wars, terrorist attacks and political instability.

The initiative, first proposed by Xi in 2013, aims at reviving the route that connects China and Europe via Central Asia and the Middle East, as well as a path through Southeast Asia and Africa. Critics, from countries including Kazakhstan and India, say the main purpose of the plan is to boost China's geopolitical influence and export China's excess industrial capacity to overseas countries. Doubts also exist over the feasibility and security risk of the initiative.

"This is a mid-stage taking stock of the situation," said Xue Li, director of international strategy at the government-backed Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of World Economics and Politics.

"The past three years have seen no shortage of scepticism and criticism from the international level, which mainly coalesced to viewing it as a new form of China threat. This was a proper time for Xi to make a response to these concerns, and he summed up major problems that popped up and mapped out some future direction."

Xi is expected to seek wider recognition of the initiative next month at the Group of 20 summit in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.

More than 100 countries and international organisations are already participating in the initiative, with over 30 countries signing formal agreements and more than 20 countries have joined in "production capacity cooperation" in areas such as railway construction and nuclear power, Xi said.

The export of China's production and construction capacity could help participating countries push forward with industrialisation and will help stabilise the world economy, Xi added.

The meeting was attended by the heads of the top national economic planning body, the foreign ministry, several entrepreneurs and scholars, and senior officials from the key provinces involved in the project such as Fujian, Shaanxi, Guangdong and Xinjiang.