Chinese President Xi Jinping’s much touted Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has come under criticism at the annual political sessions of the country, a rare dissent in China’s one party political system, according to a media report Wednesday.
The annual sessions of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the National People’s Conference (NPC) began on March 3 and due to end on March 15.
The CPPCC consisting of over 2,000 delegates is a national advisory body with nominated representatives from various walks of life. the NPC which also has over 2,000 legislators is often regarded as rubber stamp parliament for its routine endorsement of laws and policies formulated by the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).
While dissent and disagreements are a rarity in China, murmurs of criticism that too against Xi’s BRI, which reportedly carries over trillion USD investment budget, surfaced during the discussions at the two sessions, Hong Kong based South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday.
While the two sessions are being held in the backdrop of increasing apprehensions over the adverse impact of the ongoing trade war with the US and continued slowdown of the China’s economy, a former Chinese Diplomat Ye Dabo has questioned whether it was accurate for Premier Li Keqiang to say in his government work report that the BRI had made “important progress” last year.
Li presented the work report to the NPC on March 5 for adoption.
“I think this evaluation may be a bit excessive,” Ye said at the panel discussion which was open to foreign journalists.
“We have achieved some results and some fast developments, but it also has problems,” Ye was quoted by the Post report as saying.
The BRI, a signature strategy of Xi that aims to expand China’s economic influence throughout Asia and beyond, has been enshrined in the Constitution of the Communist Party since 2017.
But it suffered some setbacks in 2018. The US is openly warning other countries to be cautious about involvement their involvement in the project. Some governments from Kuala Lumpur to Islamabad are scaling back their commitment because of debt concerns, the Post report said.
The main criticism stems from China doling out huge loans spanning to billions of US dollars to small countries for infrastructure development over and beyond their capacity to pay back.
India too cautioned specially the neighbouring countries about debt traps.Apprehensions over the huge loans grew after China acquired Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port on a 99-year lease as a debt swap.
India has protested to China over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a part of the BRI, as it traversed through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Ye said at the panel discussion that China’s cooperation with countries through Belt and Road Initiative had “not been as smooth as they like to see.”
“The cooperation with some countries may not be very comprehensive, he said.
“We only have cooperation on a few specific projects. Instead of saying ‘important progress’, I suggest we revise it to ‘cooperation areas have continued to increase,” the Post quoted him as saying.
Ye’s comments came as China is getting ready to hold the second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) this year. India boycotted the first BRF meet held in 2017.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told an annual media briefing here on March 8 that the BRF meeting to be held next month would be held on a bigger with more international participation.
Wang refuted the criticism from the US, India and several other countries that the BRI is driving smaller countries in debt traps.
The BRI is not a “debt trap” that some countries may fall into but an “economic pie” that benefits local population, Wang said.
Criticism of the biggest initiative of Xi, widely regarded as the most powerful leader of China after Mao Zedong with prospect of life long tenure in power, raised eyebrows here.
Xi who took over power in 2012 heads the CPC, the military besides the presidency.
Commenting on the rare criticism Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London said “dissenting” views were at most a cautious expression of discomfort with policies under Xi.
Zhang Baohui, Chinese politics expert from Lingnan University, said Beijing is traditionally more willing to allow different views on its foreign policies in comparison with domestic politics.