China will look to improve cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative with an emphasis on sustainable debt, according to Vice Premier He Lifeng, as Beijing tries to reinvigorate its flagship infrastructure project.
(Bloomberg) — China will look to improve cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative with an emphasis on sustainable debt, according to Vice Premier He Lifeng, as Beijing tries to reinvigorate its flagship infrastructure project.
China is willing to expand trade with all nations and wants to make the initiative “greener and healthier,” He said at a CEO conference Tuesday as part of the Belt and Road forum. He added there’s a need to build a sound business environment to encourage entrepreneurs.
The vice premier is President Xi Jinping’s point man for shoring up the nation’s embattled property industry and the financial sector. Under a reshuffle earlier this year, all of China’s financial regulators — including the People’s Bank of China and the newly-created super financial watchdog — were placed under He’s purview.
World leaders descended on Beijing this week for the forum, which comes as China celebrates the 10th anniversary of the initiative. While the project has drawn $1 trillion in its first decade, momentum has tapered in recent years amid concern over debt sustainability.
The vice premier said China’s trade over the past decade with participating countries reached $19 trillion. China encourages cooperation in big data, artificial intelligence, e-commerce and new energy, he said, adding that this will be based on the principle of sustainable debt.
In recent months, He, 68, has met with high-level foreign officials including US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. During their August meeting, Raimondo told the vice premier that the US-China commercial relationship “is one of the most globally consequential.”
He also met last month with Europe’s top trade chief just as the EU announced a probe into China’s electric vehicle subsidies. He expressed “concern and dissatisfaction” over the investigation, but avoided aggressive rhetoric in favor of agreeing to working groups on financial services and trade curbs.
He is seen as a close confidante of Xi and spent more than two decades in Fujian, one of the first regions that opened up to foreign investment.
China has sought to revamp the Belt and Road amid concern the initiative is losing steam. Beijing faces accusations of being an irresponsible lender driving countries to default. Fractured ties with the US have also made association with Xi’s pet project increasingly divisive.
The Belt and Road still holds mass appeal, especially for the developing world, according to Trivium China. “Nothing remotely similar is taking place in Western capitals,” the research firm said Tuesday.
The sentiment is echoed by Ben Okoye, executive vice-chairman of Nigeria-based Brass Fertilizer and Petrochemical, who said he’s in Beijing to sign a deal with China Road and Bridge Corporation.
The Chinese appetite for risk is different from other parts of the world, Okoye said in an interview on the sidelines of the conference. “Africa is about taking risk,” he said. “We can’t develop the continent if everybody is turning their hand away and just taking resources.”
–With assistance from Dan Murtaugh.
(Updates with additional details from ninth paragraph)
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