The leaders of “about 40” Foreign Governments and Representatives from more than 100 Countries will attend next month’s Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. China’s top Diplomat said on Friday, while rejecting claims the Initiative is a debt trap for Nations taking part.
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in December that the second meeting to promote his pet “Belt and Road Initiative” would be held in April.
The inaugural event, in May 2017, attracted 29 Heads of State and Government, so Beijing will regard the sharp increase in the number of attendees as a diplomatic victory.
Yang Jiechi, a Politburo Member and Former Foreign Minister, announced the numbers in an interview with People’s Daily.
A Diplomatic source said; that Beijing had been working hard to meet its target to have 40 leaders at the event, which it regards as the main event in its diplomatic calendar this year.
He also took the opportunity to reject accusations that Beijing was using the Initiative as a “geopolitical tool” that left its partners in financial difficulty.
“No country has been left in a debt crisis after taking part in the Belt and Road Plan,” he said. “Quite the contrary, it is through cooperation that many countries have got out of the ‘no development’ trap.”
His comments came after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week he was “saddened” by Italy’s decision to sign a belt and road deal with China, while accusing Beijing of practising “debt-trap diplomacy”.
“It may feel good in the moment, you think you got a cheap product or a low-cost bridge or road built. And in the end there will be a political cost attached to that, which will greatly exceed the economic value of what you were provided,” he said.
Critics of Beijing’s plan point to the financial and political costs paid by countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
In 2017, Sri Lanka handed over the running of its Hambantota port to a Chinese company on a 99 year lease after it was unable to pay its debt to the Chinese firms that helped finance its development.
And when Pakistan went into talks with the International Monetary Fund last year to discuss its fiscal crisis, the United States which holds major influence over the multilateral lender said the fund’s money should not be used to pay China-related debts.
In his interview, Yang said China and its Partner Countries were taking steps to ensure the “debt sustainability of project financing” and that all decisions made under the Belt and Road scheme were subject to risk assessments and investment feasibility studies.
“In case our cooperation partners face difficulties in servicing debts, China will properly address this issue through friendly consultation, and will never press them for debt payment,” he said.