Belt and Road, Economy

Reaching the summit

Xi Jinping to play host at Beijing’s inaugural Belt and Road Forum

Russia's President Putin shakes hands with China's President Jinping during a welcoming ceremony at the APEC summit in Beijing

Vladimir Putin is Beijing-bound

Petrol stations are limiting fuel purchases by drivers. Municipal gardeners are working overtime to turn pot plants into huge displays. And neighbourhood committees are asking residents to to swear oaths promising to be on their best behaviour.

The reason? Beijing is about to host another major meeting.

Preparations for gatherings such as APEC’s annual meeting have always been exhaustive (see WiC293). But this month’s disruption is due to a newcomer on the conference circuit: the Belt and Road Forum.

On May 14-15, more than 30 world leaders will come to Beijing to discuss Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy initiative. Among them will be Vladimir Putin from Russia, Recap Tayyip Erdogan from Turkey, and Rodrigo Duterte from the Philippines.

The only head of a G7 country to attend will be Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, however, and the absence of his peers has ruffled a few local feathers. “Some developed countries still think they are  better than us. And in their mind, projects like the Belt and Road should be led by them, not China,” sniffed news portal Sina.

Xinhua reacted differently, citing scheduling conflicts ( and too many of those pesky elections in Europe). All the same, it professed not to be bothered by the absence of the G7 heads. “They should be reminded that the initiative is not an elite club for Western countries but serves mostly for developing countries. It is a circle of friends, with representatives from more than 100 countries attending,” it explained.

The meeting comes as Xi reaches the end of his first five-year period in office. China’s leader first proposed resurrecting the ancient Silk Road – the overland ‘Belt’ in the Belt and Road plan – in September 2013 on a trip to Kazakhstan. A month later he was in Indonesia arguing for stronger maritime connectivity in the plan (which is also referred to as OBOR, or ‘One Belt, One Road’ in the media) to transport goods and commodities between Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

Since then a Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank have been set up to help finance the initiative and a long list of countries has asked to participate – although there is no official definition of what it means to sign up to the Belt and Road blueprint.

China says the summit is being held to bring the amorphous project together. Another of the aims is to produce a G20 style-communique – or what Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has described as “a document defining OBOR’s goals and principles”.

The initiative currently comprises six land-based corridors and two maritime ones (for more, download our special issue from the Focus edition dropdown section on our website). Together these corridors connect half of the global population, three-quarters of its energy resources and 40% of its GDP.

Crucially, China wants other countries to invest in the plan and this month’s gathering is being billed as a chance to “internationalise” the project rather than it becoming a series of bilateral agreements with China.

“The significance of the forum is especially timely given the rise of anti-globalisation,” Xinhua preached. “At a time when certain Western powers are retreating into protectionism and isolation, China has been promoting the globalisation of the economy in a spirit of openness and inclusiveness.”

Of course, Xi also gets another chance to play the great statesman, receiving dozens of leaders in the Chinese capital just as he did in 2014 for the APEC meeting and a year later at the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the victory over Japan in the Second World War.

Images like these are a reminder of how China’s influence has grown internationally. And they won’t do any harm to Xi’s standing in the lead-up to the Party Congress in the autumn, when he will start his second term as president of the country and leader of the Communist Party.

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