BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday (April 28) opened the biggest garden show on earth, capping three days of the country's most important diplomatic event of the year and kicking off celebrations leading up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
The opening ceremony of the International Horticultural Exhibition was timed for the end of the second Belt and Road summit which President Xi said resulted in deals worth US$64 billion (S$87.1 billion).
Nearly 40 heads of state and government, including Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, were among the 5,000 delegates who attended this second edition of the forum which, while bigger in scale than the inaugural one in 2017, received more muted treatment.
When opening the expo on Sunday, President Xi espoused the importance of respecting the environment, saying countries have to work together to deal with the challenges of climate change.
"Only by working together, can we effectively address global environmental issues such as climate change, marine pollution, and ecological protection, and achieve the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals," he told an audience of world leaders and diplomats.
He also repeated a commitment made on Saturday to pursue green development for his signature Belt and Road campaign, after facing criticism that it was funding many polluting projects including the building of coal plants.
Years in the planning, the garden expo is the biggest horticultural show to be staged anywhere in the world.
Spanning 503ha - or six times the size of the Singapore Botanic Gardens - in the northwestern district of Yanqing, which is about an hour's drive from central Beijing, the expo grounds boast views of the Taihang mountains and the Great Wall, with the Guishui River running through it.
The Chinese authorities tunnelled through mountains, built highways and relocated families to newly built homes in order to make this 162-day festival a showcase of China's might and penchant for large-scale extravaganzas.
More than 110 countries and organisations, including Singapore, are participating. Organisers expect 16 million visitors from Monday till Oct 7, when the expo ends.
Earlier on Sunday evening, Prime Minister Lee toured the Singapore pavilion, designed by a team from the National Parks Board.
Orchids are the main features of the 1,000 sq m garden in the pavilion, with over 5,500 of them from as many as 200 species on show.
Among the highlights are VIP orchids Papilionanda Xi Jinping-Peng Liyuan and Aranda Lee Kuan Yew, the former named after the Chinese president and his wife who visited Singapore in 2015.
Singapore was invited to participate in the expo in 2016. Singapore Botanic Gardens' coordinating director for festival, events and exhibitions, Mr Dennis Lim, said the thinking from the start was to replicate a tropical habitat amid the dry conditions of Beijing.
"We thought, let's create an enclosure that visitors can feel like they've just stepped onto Singapore's shores," he said.
Earlier on Sunday, Mr Lee also met with President of the Republic of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh. Both leaders reaffirmed the friendly ties between the two countries and discussed potential cooperation in urban development, port and maritime development, logistics as well as the digital economy.
Mr Lee will meet President Xi and Premier Li Keqiang on Monday before heading home.