Xi Jinping portrayed his signature Belt and Road Initiative as a sweeping alternative to the US-led world order, a vision for global economic cooperation endorsed in person by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
(Bloomberg) — Xi Jinping portrayed his signature Belt and Road Initiative as a sweeping alternative to the US-led world order, a vision for global economic cooperation endorsed in person by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a speech in Beijing on Wednesday to mark the 10th anniversary of China’s global infrastructure push, Xi criticized unilateral sanctions, geopolitical rivalry and bloc politics. While he didn’t identify any country, the remarks were clear references to US policy toward China in recent years, which Washington has characterized as de-risking but Beijing sees as an effort to thwart its rising power.
“As the saying goes, when you give roses to others, fragrance lingers on your hand,” Xi said. “In other words, helping others is also helping oneself. Viewing others’ development as a threat or taking economic interdependence as a risk will not make one’s own life better or speed up one’s development.”
Speaking directly after Xi, Putin praised the initiative as in sync with Russia’s goal of a world with interconnected infrastructure in which freedom of trade, investment and labor can be fully ensured.
“Russia and China, like most countries of the world, share the aspiration for equal and mutually beneficial cooperation in order to achieve universal sustainable and long-term economic progress and social well-being while respecting the diversity of civilization and the right of each state to its own development model,” the Russian president said.
“The Chinese idea of Belt and Road logically fits into multilateral efforts to strengthen creative and constructive interaction,” he added.
The comments at the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road forum amounted to a more positive push by China and Russia to appeal to emerging economies in the so-called Global South, spanning widely across South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. The US and its allies are also courting those countries to back a rules-based order that would see them aligned on issues like supporting Ukraine’s efforts to resist Putin’s invasion.
The Belt and Road Initiative has become a flashpoint between China and the West, with Italy — the only Group of Seven member who signed a formal cooperation agreement with Beijing — signaling its intention to exit by the end of the year. Yet Xi still sees the program as appealing to nations in the developing world that can use China’s cash and don’t see the need to take a stand on issues like human rights and territorial sovereignty.
“China and Xi Jinping himself are trying to create a diversified situation to explore opportunities beyond Western countries,” said Dongshu Liu, assistant professor specializing in Chinese politics at the City University of Hong Kong. “Because the BRI is a more economic forum, it can be attractive to a lot of countries. The forum is effective in getting other country to come and participate in something that China wants to push.”
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It’s a rare trip abroad for Putin after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him in March for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. His visit is a show of support for the Belt and Road, and underscores Moscow’s close ties with Beijing, which Washington and Brussels are viewing with caution.
Beijing has provided diplomatic and economic support to Russia since Putin ordered the 2022 invasion, helping to mitigate the effects of Western sanctions on Moscow. Putin last visited China for the Winter Olympics in February that year, a few weeks before he invaded Ukraine. At that meeting the two leaders agreed to a “no-limits” friendship and signed a series of long-term energy supply deals.
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Xi touted the Belt and Road as a win-win solution for China and participating countries. More than 150 countries and over 30 international organizations have signed cooperation documents, he said. Beijing will inject 80 billion yuan ($10 billion) into the Silk Road Fund, while China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China will each set up a 350 billion yuan financing tool.
In a white paper released earlier this month, Beijing cast the initiative as an alternative to the prevailing global economic model that is “dominated by a few countries,” positioning itself as the champion of the developing world.
However, fewer foreign leaders have come to the event compared to the previous two summits, in 2017 and 2019, showing interest in the initiative has waned. Among the attendees are Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, Kenyan President William Ruto and Chilean President Gabriel Boric.
Xi and Putin held talks on the sidelines of the forum. The Chinese leader said the political mutual trust between the two countries continues to deepen and bilateral trade volume has hit a record, state media CCTV reported.
“In the 10 years since 2013, Mr. President and I have met 42 times and established a good working relationship and a profound friendship,” Xi said. China is willing to work with Russia to “safeguard international fairness and justice, and contribute to the common development of the world.”
Their meeting comes at a time of turmoil in the Middle East after Hamas’s attack on Israel this month, which has led to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and expectations of a ground invasion. China and Russia have avoided condemning Hamas, which Europe and US designated as a terrorist group. Xi and Putin didn’t mention the crisis on Wednesday.
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