Beijing: China touted on Sunday its new Silk Road as “a project of the century” at a summit highlighting its growing leadership on globalisation, but a North Korean missile test intruded on the meeting.
President Xi Jinping greeted leaders from 29 nations for the two-day summit in Beijing after US and South Korean military officials confirmed that Pyongyang had launched a ballistic missile.
Delegations from North Korea and the US attended the forum, although their leaders did not. Few Western heads of government made the trip.
The summit is showcasing Xi’s cherished One Belt, One Road initiative, a revival of the ancient Silk Road trading routes that could cement China’s growing global clout on trade and geopolitics.
“This is indeed a gathering of great minds,” Xi said, addressing leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Xi pledged to pump an extra $124 billion (Dh455 billion) in funds into the initiative, calling it “a project of the century” in a “world fraught with challenges”.
The Chinese-bankrolled project seeks to link the country with Africa, Asia and Europe through an enormous network of ports, railways, roads and industrial parks.
The initiative spans some 65 countries representing 60 per cent of the world population and around a third of global gross domestic product (GDP). The China Development Bank has earmarked $890 billion for some 900 projects.
The project is seen as a practical solution to relieve China’s industrial overcapacity. But it could also serve Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions as Washington retreats into “America First” policies.
India has not sent an official delegation to attend the “Belt and Road Forum” in Beijing and instead criticised China’s global initiative, warning of an “unsustainable debt burden” for countries involved.
Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay, asked whether New Delhi was participating in the summit, said India could not accept a project that compromised its sovereignty.
While Xi did not mention North Korea during his speech to the delegates, it was discussed during a bilateral meeting with Putin.
“Both parties expressed their concern over the escalation of tensions” on the Korean peninsula, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement it opposed such missile tests and it called for restraint from all parties.
The delegates from both Koreas held a brief meeting at the summit, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
“We strongly condemned North Korea’s launch of the missile,” said Park Byeong-Seug, who leads Seoul’s delegation, according to Yonhap.
North Korea relies heavily on trade with China for its economic survival, and US President Donald Trump has urged Xi to use that leverage to put pressure on Pyongyang.
The White House called on all nations to impose “far stronger sanctions” following the latest test, which came days after South Korea elected a new president.
Sunday’s missile launch “is absolutely an embarrassment to Beijing but it also shouldn’t be overstated”, Christopher Balding, economics professor at Peking University, told AFP.
“This will not overshadow [the summit] in an enormous way but it will absolutely continue to raise US frustrations with Beijing,” he said, adding that Washington was “frustrated” that North Korea was also invited to the summit.
Xi focused on his initiative, boasting that it represented a “road for peace”, but he cautioned “all countries should respect each others’ sovereignty ... and territorial integrity”.
He warned that “isolation results in backwardness”.
The new financing that he promised on Sunday includes 100 billion yuan (Dh53 billion) for the Silk Road Fund and lending schemes worth 380 billion yuan. He also urged financial institutions to contribute 100 billion yuan.
Praising Xi’s initiative, Putin warned that “protectionism is becoming the norm”.
“The ideas of openness, trade freedom are rejected more and more, very often by those who were their supporters not so long ago,” Putin said.
Erdogan said Belt and Road was “going to be the kind of initiative that will put an end to terrorism”.
Some Belt and Road projects are raising concerns in certain countries.
India has voiced displeasure at the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a Belt and Road project aimed at linking northwestern China to the Arabian Sea.
The route cuts through Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, disputed territory that India claims is illegally occupied.
Human Rights Watch raised fears on Saturday about the treatment of people along the new Silk Road route in Central Asian nations with poor track records in infrastructure projects.