China gears up to host summit on Silk Road initiative

China will host the biggest diplomatic event next month on its new Silk Road plan.
China will host the biggest diplomatic event next month on its new Silk Road plan.PHOTO: REUTERS

Attendees include many leaders from Asia but only one from G-7 nations - Italy's PM

BEIJING • China will gather its friends and allies together for its biggest diplomatic event of the year next month, a summit on its new Silk Road plan, with many Asian leaders due to attend but only one leader from a Group of Seven (G-7) nation, Italy's Prime Minister, expected to show up.

President Xi Jinping has championed what China formally calls the One Belt, One Road (Obor) initiative to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa and Europe, a landmark programme to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, including railways, ports and power grids.

China has dedicated US$40 billion (S$56 billion) to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the setting up of the US$50 billion China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi yesterday announced a list of those attending the conference, including some of China's most reliable allies, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Ms Aung San Suu Kyi from Myanmar, Malaysian Premier Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo are also set to attend.

"One Belt, One Road is to date the most important public good China has given to the world, first proposed by China but for all countries to enjoy," Mr Wang said.

"The culture and historical genes of One Belt, One Road come from the old Silk Road, so it takes Eurasia as its main region," he said, adding that representatives of 110 countries would attend.

While China says the new Silk Road is not political, it has run into opposition from India due to a section of it in Pakistan, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, where some projects run through the disputed Kashmir region.

Mr Wang dismissed those concerns, saying the Pakistan project had no direct link to the dispute and India was welcome to participate in the new Silk Road. "Indian friends have said to us that One Belt, One Road is a very good suggestion."

Nevertheless, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was not on the list of leaders attending the event in Beijing from May 14-15.

Mr Wang also made no mention of any attendance of officials from Japan, South Korea or North Korea, all countries with which China has strained ties. Nor was there mention of Australia.

The list included only one leader from the G-7 nations - Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

Diplomatic sources in Beijing said China had hoped for at least some senior Western leaders to attend the event to burnish the plan's credentials and make it less China-centric.

British Finance Minister Philip Hammond will attend as Prime Minister Theresa May's representative, while Germany and France will be having elections at the time and will send high-level representatives, Mr Wang said.

A senior Indonesian government official said China was aiming for a "spectacular" summit. "The Chinese are gunning for... global leadership, so I think this Obor summit is going to be huge."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline 'China gears up to host summit on Silk Road initiative'. Print Edition | Subscribe