China's Xi appeals to foreign leaders for freer trade

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Pic: ReutersBEIJING: Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $124 billion on Sunday for his new Silk Road plan to forge a path of peace, inclusiveness and free trade, and called for the abandonment of old models based on rivalry and diplomatic power games.

Speaking at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing celebrating President Xi Jinping's "Belt and Road initiative", Hammond heaped praise on his hosts and said Britain was a "natural partner" for Beijing as it pushed ahead with a massive infrastructure campaign some call the most ambitious in history.

Last year the world economy has its worst year since the global financial crisis, with a 13-percent drop in foreign direct investment and weak trade growth.

Hours before the summit opened, North Korea launched another ballistic missile, further testing the patience of China, its chief ally.

Xi pledged a major funding boost to the new Silk Road, including an extra 100 billion yuan ($14.50 billion) into the existing Silk Road Fund, 380 billion yuan in loans from two policy banks and 60 billion yuan in aid to developing countries and global bodies in countries along the new trade routes.

The Belt and Road Initiative summit opened on Sunday with 1,500 representatives, including 850 guests from 130 countries and 70 worldwide organizations.

"We don't have any specific projects as of now that may be part of this Belt and Road (initiative) in terms of infrastructure", he said.

The inclusive tone of China's Belt and Road push stands in stark contrast to U.S. President Donald Trump's "America First" policy, which included the scrapping of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, a regional trade pact involving Pacific Rim countries but excluding China. India is wary of the contentious China-Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC), and the OBOR is seen as a "highway" to make the CPEC a reality.

But some Western diplomats have expressed unease about both the summit and the plan as a whole, seeing it as an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally. They are also concerned about transparency and access for foreign companies.

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Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said Canberra was receptive to exploring commercial opportunities China's new Silk Road presented, but any decisions would remain incumbent on national interest. "It has benefitted over 30 countries and produced strong impacts in developing countries", Graziano da Silva said. "We will not interfere in other countries' internal affairs. What we hope to achieve is a new model of win-win cooperation".

Beijing is hosting the Belt and Road forum on 14-15 May.

In another bid to allay India's concerns, Chinese ambassador to New Delhi Luo Zhaohui, during an address at a think tank in New Delhi, had offered to rename the CPEC, insisting that it was an economic cooperation and connectivity enhancement project devoid of "sovereignty issues".

A total of 68 countries, including Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and worldwide organisations have signed Belt and Road cooperation agreements with China, he said addressing the media.

Singapore can play a role to help finance Belt and Road projects, and provide expertise in infrastructure planning.

According to the draft communique, the participating nations in the two-day forum agreed to promote "practical cooperation on roads, railways, ports, maritime and inland water transport, aviation, energy pipeline, electricity and telecommunications".

"The main reason behind India staying out of the forum is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, part of which passes through the disputed territory of Kashmir", Kukarni told the daily. Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the prominent heads of state.

There were also several European leaders attending, including the prime ministers of Spain, Italy, Greece and Hungary.

While the summit has been given nearly non-stop coverage on Chinese state-run television, attention at the event was distracted by North Korea's latest missile test on Sunday.