Chinese President Xi Jinping has promised more access to China’s market for international firms and new financing exceeding $100 billion for other developing economies.
He made the promise as he opened a forum Wednesday on his signature Belt and Road infrastructure policy.
At the forum’s opening ceremony at the cavernous Great Hall of the People, Xi promised two Chinese-backed development banks – the China Development Bank and the Export–Import Bank of China – will each set 350 billion yuan ($47.9 billion) financing windows, while an additional 80 billion yuan ($11 billion) will be injected into the Silk Road Fund to support BRI projects.
Xi said “we will comprehensively remove restrictions on foreign investment access in the manufacturing sector,” adding that China would further open up “cross-border trade and investment in services and expand market access for digital products,” while also carrying out reforms of state-owned enterprises in sectors such as the digital economy, intellectual property rights and government procurement.
According to reports, the initiative has built power plants, roads, railroads and ports around the world and deepened China’s relations with Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Mideast, however, the massive loans that funded the projects have burdened poorer countries with heavy debts, in some cases leading to China taking control of those assets.
Representatives from more than 130 mostly developing countries are attending the forum, including at least 20 heads of state and government.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is attending, in a sign of China’s economic and diplomatic support for Moscow amid the isolation brought by its war in Ukraine.
Addressing the forum right after Xi, Putin praised BRI as leading to a “fairer, multipolar world,” according to a translation of his speech by state broadcaster CGTN.
Putin had on Tuesday, met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who is the sole government leader attending from the European Union, and their meeting was perceived as rare, giving that the Russian president was meeting a European leader since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine in February 2022.
Dignitaries who attended the event also include the presidents of Indonesia, Argentina, Kazakstan, Sri Lanka, Kenya among other countries, as well as U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who had in the past praised the Chinese policy as bringing development to neglected areas.
Most Western European countries and U.S. allies sent lower level or former officials to the forum.
China became a major financer of development projects under BRI, on par with the World Bank. The Chinese government says the initiative has launched more than 3,000 projects and “galvanized” nearly $1 trillion in investment.
It has also attracted criticism from the U.S., India and others, as they said China was engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy;
by making loans Beijing already knew governments would default on, and allowing Chinese interests, in order to take control of the assets.