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B&R News: The Belt and Road Initiative in Davos
5 Feb 2018

 

One of the best-attended speeches at the forum was that of Liu He (above), a member of China's ruling Politburo, who promoted the Belt and Road initiative. (Photo: www.cyol.com)

 

PUBLISHED JAN 29, 2018 

 

DAVOS, Switzerland (NYTIMES) - it was clear in Davos, Switzerland, this past week that geopolitical momentum lay with Beijing, not Washington.

 

At one end of town, President Michel Temer of Brazil welcomed an unexpected offer from Beijing for Latin American nations to work closely with a Chinese initiative, known as the Belt and Road, intended to spread its economic and diplomatic influence abroad.

 

At the other end of town, a senior Chinese diplomat helped introduce the prime minister of Pakistan at a breakfast meeting. Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi used his talk to praise the rapidly expanding Chinese investments in his country, including to build power stations and a large port.

 

One of the best-attended speeches at the forum was that of Liu He, a member of China's ruling Politburo, who promoted the Belt and Road initiative, also known as One Belt, One Road. Participants here said the Chinese initiative was already rivaling more established, traditionally American-led, international institutions.

 

"The China One Belt, One Road is going to be the new WTO - like it or not," said Joe Kaeser, chief executive of Siemens, the German industrial giant, referring to the World Trade Organisation.

 

On Friday, the Chinese government used a policy document issued in Beijing to call for a "Polar Silk Road" that would link China to Europe and the Atlantic via a shipping route past the melting Arctic ice cap.

 

The Belt and Road gradually extended to include the Mideast, Europe and eastern Africa, with Beijing promising hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in highways, rail lines, ports, power stations and other infrastructure, much of it through loans from Chinese state-owned banks.

 

Critics have been sceptical that projects bankrolled through the initiative will bury the recipients in debt and cause considerable environmental damage. It has also been criticised as an easy line of financing for authoritarian regimes. China says its projects will be environmentally and financially sound, and that it does not seek a say in how other countries are governed.

 

While Davos was underway, China was making other efforts to stretch the geographical ambitions of its Belt and Road initiative even further.

 

At a summit meeting for Latin American and Caribbean foreign ministers in Santiago, Chile, Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China called for close cooperation and participation by the region's countries, although he stopped short of formally including them in the initiative.

 

In Davos, Temer of Brazil said that he was not concerned about the rising influence in South America of China, which has increased investments in his country and extended enormous loans to Venezuela and Ecuador. Temer said the debts should be seen as a financial issue, not a geopolitical one.

 

"The major concern they have is to recover the loans they gave Venezuela; they want their payment," he said in an interview. "This was actually quite explained in the meetings we have."

 

He also said that he was not worried by the strong Chinese interest in acquiring stakes in Brazil's electrical distribution and other industries. "The US invests as well in Brazil," he said.

 

National leaders seemed to vie with one another in Davos in calling for closer cooperation with China. Abbasi of Pakistan dismissed recent controversy in his country over whether China's giant construction projects were compromising Pakistan's sovereignty, its environment or its financial stability.

 

"There is no major challenge we have not been able to resolve, and the sovereignty issues are very clear," he said at a breakfast for business executives and the news media.

 

He added that on financial and environmental issues relating to Belt and Road projects, "So far, I can tell you we are winning on both counts."

 

Chinese officials used Davos as another opportunity to speak out against protectionism, in what analysts have described as an effort to take advantage of global concerns about the Trump administration and its warnings that it would pursue a more aggressive trade policy.

 

Source: NYTIMES