Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during her recent visit to China to attend the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference.

The meeting, which was also attended by other officers of the BFA, was among the highlights of the conference held in Hainan.

Arroyo is on her second year as member of the board of the BFA, an organisation that aims to gather leaders in government, business and academic institutions in Asia to discuss and share their insights on the most pressing issues in the region and across the world.

During the meeting, Arroyo highlighted China’s flagship project, the so-called “Globalisation V.2,” more commonly known as the Belt and Road Initiative.

“China has given us the lesson that there is just not one path for development because prior to China’s experience, it was thought that the only way to development is the Western style model of Jeffersonian democracy and coupled with a free market,” she said.

“China has shown the world that you can have your own model of development using your own historical experience,” she added.

Scepticism

China’s Belt and Road Initiative envisions rebuilding the old “Silk Road” to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond with massive infrastructure spending.

In a recent survey among people in Southeast Asia’s government, academic and business communities, civil society and the media, 70 percent of the respondents believe that Southeast Asian countries should be cautious in negotiating with China on the Belt and Road Initiative to avoid being trapped in unsustainable debt.

Nearly half of the respondents said President Xi Jinping’s hallmark initiative would bring ASEAN “closer into China’s orbit,” while a third said the project lacked transparency and 16 percent predicted it would fail.

On Saturday, China’s top diplomat defended the initiative, calling its critics “prejudiced” and saying that China has never forced debt upon participants of its new Silk Road project.

“The Belt and Road is open, inclusive and transparent. It does not play little geopolitical games. It does not engage in the exclusion of exclusive small circles,” claimed Yang Jiechi, who runs the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign affairs committee.

Yang said that many countries, companies and ordinary people participating in the Belt and Road project had “publicly refuted rumours” about it being a debt trap.

“For cooperative partners who have debt difficulties, China’s principle is to appropriately resolve this through friendly consultations, and has never pushed or forced debt” on anyone, he added.

Arroyo Praises China

Arroyo, who was elected to the BFA board in April 2018, said that the China’s growth within the past 20 years only shows that no model for development can be applied universally. The diversity of historical conditions, she said, is the one determines the development paths a country chooses.

“Since the opening of China 40 years ago, it has transformed itself, it is the world’s leading growth, unmatched in history. 400 million people lifted out from poverty. China is on the verge of becoming the largest economy in the world,” she said.

It was at the same conference that Arroyo said China is a partner, not a threat, to the Philippines despite apprehensions about China’s involvement in development projects in the country.

Arroyo said that developing countries such as the Philippines should further boost their relationship with China.