China belt and road ‘not ideological’ foreign minister tells conference

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China’s Belt and Road Initiative has no strings attached and is open to all, said Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in a subtle dig at the US plan to form an alternative infrastructure funding programme based on democratic values.

Speaking at a high-level meeting on international cooperation through the belt and road in the Asia-Pacific region, Wang said China’s plan did not impose political conditions or ideological bias.

“Every cooperation we carry out has no political conditions attached to it, neither is it imposed on others from the so-called ‘status of power’, and it will not pose a threat to any country,” he said, via video link on Wednesday to senior officials from 29 countries taking part.

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi presides over the Asia and Pacific High-level Conference on Belt and Road Cooperation via video link in Beijing on Thursday. Photo: Xinhua
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi presides over the Asia and Pacific High-level Conference on Belt and Road Cooperation via video link in Beijing on Thursday. Photo: Xinhua

Although he did not directly refer to it, his remarks appeared to be aimed at the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative announced by the G7 this month, billed as a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent infrastructure partnership led by major democracies to to help narrow the US$40+ trillion infrastructure needs in the developing world”.

US President Joe Biden said the initiative would be “much more equitable” compared to China’s belt and road plan.

“We always insist on openness and tolerance,” Wang said, describing the belt and road as “a sunny avenue for everyone to move forward hand in hand with no small courtyards and high walls”.

“Different systems and civilisations are accommodated, and there is no ideological bias.”

While the belt and road programme began with economic cooperation, Wang said it was not limited to the economy, and was increasingly becoming a new platform for improving global governance.

Belt and road cooperation had not paused during the pandemic, he added, saying that most projects continued to advance with the trade volume of goods between China and its partners reaching a record high of US$1.35 trillion last year.

Wang said 140 countries had participated in the belt and road plan, a massive China-funded infrastructure network spanning from Asia to Europe that includes projects like ports, pipelines, railways. It had become the world’s largest international cooperation platform, bringing huge opportunities and dividends to countries all over the world, he said.

The cumulative trade volume between China and its belt and road partners exceeded US$9.2 trillion, and the cumulative direct investment of Chinese companies in countries along the route exceeded US$130 billion, according to Wang.

During the conference, Wang announced the launch of a belt and road vaccine partnership initiative to promote the equitable distribution of vaccines on a global scale. The 29 countries have agreed to cooperate to strengthen vaccine regulatory policy communication, and carry out joint research and technical exchanges.

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They will also support governments and enterprises donating vaccines to developing countries, or the export of vaccines at affordable prices, and promote production partnerships to manufacture vaccines in developing countries.

Regional and multilateral development banks will be encouraged to provide developing countries with preferential financing for the procurement and production of vaccines.

Amid rising rivalry and competition with the West, with disputes including the South China Sea, Wang said the Asia-Pacific should be a highland for development cooperation, but not a geopolitical chess game.

And green development would be a priority, Wang said, announcing the launch of a belt and road green development partnership initiative to strengthen cooperation with all parties in the fields of green infrastructure, green energy, and green finance.

In recent years, critics have claimed that China is promoting coercive “debt-trap diplomacy” and the initiative has faced a backlash from countries such as Australia, which cancelled its state government’s belt and road deal with China in April, saying it was inconsistent with national foreign policy.

No evidence of China’s ‘debt-trap diplomacy’, researchers and analysts say

China’s ambassador to Canada Cong Peiwu struck a similar tone to the foreign minister in an article published on Tuesday by the Canada China Business Council (CCBC)’s website. He wrote that the belt and road plan was a platform for economic cooperation, not a geopolitical tool.

“Some people believe the BRI is China’s geopolitical tool aimed at seeking political interests, but this is completely wrong,” he wrote. Cong also said claims by some people accusing the initiative of being a white elephant and offering empty promises, which caused partner countries to fall into debt traps, were obviously “untenable”.

“Not a single BRI partner country has agreed with the claim of so-called ‘debt traps’. The debt issue, in essence, is an issue of underdevelopment,” he wrote.

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