Belt and Road will be clean, green and sustainable: Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping at the welcome banquet for leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday.
Chinese President Xi Jinping at the welcome banquet for leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Chinese President makes pledge in bid to soothe fears over mega project, which he says is not an exclusive club

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to make his outward-looking Belt and Road mega project clean, green and financially sustainable, even as the country continues with its task of housekeeping to welcome more foreign investors.

In a half-hour speech yesterday aimed as much at the recipient countries of his Belt and Road campaign as it was at the United States and other developed nations, President Xi attempted to soothe fears over the project.

"The Belt and Road is not an exclusive club," Mr Xi said, alluding to suggestions that the project was a vehicle for Beijing's global ambitions.

Mr Xi also appeared to tacitly acknowledge the criticism levelled both at his signature diplomatic policy as well as the country's handling of foreign businesses.

He was speaking to dozens of world leaders and as many as 5,000 representatives from 150 countries who have gathered in Beijing for a three-day summit on the grand project to link Asia to Europe and Africa through a network of roads, railway lines and ports.

China has invested US$90 billion (S$122 billion) in various infrastructure projects, while banks have given out more than US$300 billion in loans, according to the latest figures from the Chinese authorities.

But controversy has dogged the initiative for years, especially after a string of troubled projects hit the headlines and raised alarm bells over how China was plunging poor countries into unsustainable debt.

 
 
 
 

The East Asian giant has also come under fire for funding polluting projects such as coal plants and for lacking transparency in its deals.

"We must adhere to the concept of openness, greenness and cleanliness," said President Xi at the China National Convention Centre yesterday. "Operate in the sun and fight corruption together with zero tolerance."

He also vowed to adopt international rules and standards, including greater accountability in the procurement, tendering and bidding of projects.

World leaders at the summit held up the Belt and Road Initiative as a new model of globalisation countering a wave of protectionist sentiments in an increasingly polarised world.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Chinese-led scheme can play a crucial role in making multilateral cooperation stronger, with its focus on trade and connectivity.

Yesterday, President Xi also spent time outlining how the country intends to open its door wider to foreign investments.

In a nod to nagging complaints ahead of another round of trade talks in Beijing next week, President Xi promised to beef up enforcement of intellectual property infringement, put a stop to forced technology transfer and abolish "unreasonable regulations, subsidies and practices".

President Xi yesterday also took a veiled dig at the United States over its actions against telecoms giant Huawei and treatment of Chinese students and scholars after reports surfaced that the American authorities were delaying their visa applications or denying them.

China has reportedly also been doing the same to American academics.

Said President Xi: "We hope other countries will also create an enabling environment of investment, treat Chinese enterprises, international students and scholars equally, and provide a fair and friendly environment for their normal international exchanges and cooperation activities."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2019, with the headline 'Belt and Road will be clean, green and sustainable: Xi'. Print Edition | Subscribe