China defends, not subverts, the world order: Diplomat

A spokesman for China's National People's Congress said the country sees itself as a defender of the international order.
A spokesman for China's National People's Congress said the country sees itself as a defender of the international order.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - China does not seek to overturn the existing world order or export its development model, a senior Chinese diplomat has said.

Neither is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), President Xi Jinping's signature foreign and economic policy plan, a geostrategic tool, said Mr Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the National People's Congress (NPC).

Instead, China sees itself as a defender of the international order, and wants to make it more just and equitable for all nations, Mr Zhang said at a press conference on Sunday (March 4), a day before China's parliament, the NPC, convenes.

China also does not believe in a universal development model, but that each country should find a path that fits its national conditions, he added.

"China sticks to its own path, and it neither imports others' models nor exports the Chinese model, nor does it require other countries to copy China's practices," he said.

"If some countries are interested in the experience and practices of China's development, we are willing to discuss and share it with them, but we will never impose it on others."

Those who view the BRI as a tool by which China's clout will grow also misunderstand its purpose, said Mr Zhang, who is also vice-minister for foreign affairs.

The BRI is an economic cooperation initiative that is focused on equal partnership, mutual benefits, and win-win results, he said. The initiative, a global economic plan to create regional connectivity through infrastructure development, turns five this year.

"It is an open and inclusive platform, not exclusive or targeted at any country, and we welcome all interested countries," he said.

China will also introduce new laws this year to create a transparent, stable and predictable environment that eases market access for foreign investors while safeguarding their rights, he added.

But in a break from tradition, Mr Zhang did not provide an estimate for how much China's defence budget will rise this year.

Exact figures for defence are likely to be announced on Monday, as a customary part of the Premier's work report delivered at the opening of the annual meetings.

Last year, however, the number was not revealed in the work report, raising questions about China's commitment to transparency.

The official Xinhua news agency released the figure of a seven per cent increase a day later. This put China's military budget last year at 1.044 trillion yuan, a slight dip from the 7.6 per cent increase in 2016.

Mr Zhang's remarks came on the heels of more countries becoming wary of China's influence, which has grown in tandem with its economic strength.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned last week that European Union member states participating in Chinese infrastructure initiatives should be mindful not to undermine the bloc's common foreign policy stance towards China. It was her second warning in a fortnight, after she said Chinese investments in the western Balkans should not come with political strings.

China has held annual summits since 2012 with 16 central and eastern Europe countries, most of whom are EU members as well. Its investment in these countries reached US$9 billion (S$11.9 billion) last year, while investment in the other direction was US$1.4 billion.

Last December, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced new laws to curb foreign influence, and singled out reported efforts by Beijing to interfere in its affairs.

But Mr Zhang said China has always adhered to the policy of developing friendly cooperation with all countries.

"China's development is conducive to the peace, stability and prosperity of the world," he said.