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Silk Road ‘boosts finance, security ties’

Chinese president Xi Jinping makes a toast during a welcome banquet on Sunday for the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo EPA/Wu Hong

Chinese president Xi Jinping makes a toast during a welcome banquet on Sunday for the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photo EPA/Wu Hong

Joe McDonald & Christopher Bodeen

BEIJING [AP]

President Xi Jinping has called for closer co-operation across Asia and Europe in areas from anti-terrorism to finance.

It comes as leaders from 29 countries gathered in Beijing on Sunday to promote a Chinese trade initiative that could increase China’s global influence.

The Belt and Road Initiative calls for building ports, railways and other facilities in a vast arc of 65 countries.

Other countries welcome the investment but governments including the United States, Russia and India have expressed unease Beijing also might be using the effort to increase its political stature.

Speaking before an audience that included Russian President Vladimir Putin, Xi said his government has ‘no desire to impose our will on others’.

But he called for ‘economic integration’ and co-operation on financial regulation, anti-terrorism and security – fields in which China’s heft as the world’s No. 2 economy would make it a dominant player.

‘We should foster a vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,’ said Xi. He called for stepped-up action against terrorism and what he called its root causes of poverty and social injustice.

The ‘Belt and Road’ is Xi’s signature foreign policy initiative.

The two-day meeting gives him a platform to promote his image as a global leader and free trade advocate in contrast to US president Donald Trump, who has called for import restrictions.

China is hardly the first government to promote regional trade links.

Japan has given billions of dollars in grants and low-cost loans to Southeast Asian nations, and governments including South Korea have launched trade initiatives.

But Beijing’s effort is the most ambitious and is backed by China’s financial muscle and status as the biggest global trader.

Chinese officials have said previously ‘Belt and Road’ is purely commercial, though Xi’s comments indicated Beijing sees that as including a broad array of regulatory and other co-ordination with potentially far-reaching consequences.

Some diplomats and political analysts say Beijing is trying to create a political and economic network centred on China, push the United States out of the region and rewrite rules on trade and security.

The United States and Japan, which Beijing sees as rivals for influence in Asia, are not part of ‘Belt and Road.’

Countering US influence in Asia

China and Russia already are partners, along with Central Asian governments, in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a security group widely seen as an effort to counter US influence in the region.

Putin, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and prime minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan echoed Xi’s theme that economic development would help to nurture political stability and neutralise support for radical groups.

The Russian leader complained about ‘illegal sanctions’ – a possible reference to US trade penalties imposed on Moscow over Ukraine – and warned trade protectionism is creating a ‘breeding ground’ for terrorism.

Closer economic integration ‘should change the very political and economic landscape of the continent, bringing Eurasia stability, prosperity,’ said Putin.

Referring to Bejing’s plan, Erdogan said, ‘This is going to be the kind of initiative that puts an end to terrorism.’

Xi called for regional cooperation in finance – a field where China’s huge state-owned banking industry and $US3 trillion ($A4.1 trillion) of foreign currency reserves would make it the dominant player.

Other leaders included premier Paolo Gentiloni of Italy and president Michelle Bachelet of Chile. No major Western leaders attended, though Britain, France, Australia and Germany were represented by top finance officials.


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