BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping called Sunday for closer cooperation among countries across Asia and Europe in areas from anti-terrorism to finance, as officials from dozens of governments met to promote a Beijing-led initiative to expand trade links across the region.
Speaking to an audience that included Russian President Vladimir Putin and leaders of 29 other countries, Xi outlined the most ambitious political vision yet for the “Belt and Road Initiative,” a multibillion-dollar project to build ports, railways and other facilities. It covers an arc of 65 countries reaching from the South Pacific through South and Central Asia to Europe and Africa.
The initiative would provide some of the $7 trillion of investment in infrastructure the Asian Development Bank says the region needs this decade. But governments including Russia, the United States and India are uneasy that China is using its status as the second-largest global economy to expand its political influence.
Xi insisted his government has “no desire to impose our will on others.” But he also called for economic integration and cooperation on financial regulation, anti-terrorism and security — all fields in which China’s economic heft would give it a prominent voice.
“We should foster a vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security and create a security environment built and shared by all,” said Xi. He called for stepped-up action against terrorism and what he called its root causes of poverty and social injustice.
In a reminder of the potential security threats facing the region, North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile Sunday that flew for a half-hour and reached an unusually high altitude of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles). The launch was seen as a challenge to a new South Korean president who was elected last week and came as U.S., Japanese and European naval forces gathered for war games in the Pacific.
The “Belt and Road” is Xi’s signature foreign policy initiative. The two-day meeting that started Sunday gives him a platform to promote his image as a global leader and an advocate of free trade in contrast to President Donald Trump, who has called for import restrictions.
Xi said Beijing will contribute an additional 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) to the Silk Road Fund set up in 2014 to finance infrastructure projects. He said his government will provide aid worth 60 billion yuan ($8.7 billion) to developing countries and international organizations.
Two Chinese government-run banks also will set up lending facilities valued at a total of 380 billion yuan ($55 billion) to support the initiative, Xi said.
Speaking after Xi, Putin echoed the Chinese president’s theme that economic development would help to nurture political stability. The Russian leader said the rise of trade protectionism is creating a “breeding ground for international extremism and terrorism.”
“Russia believes that the future of the Eurasian partnership is not just about fostering ties between a few countries and economies,” said Putin. “It should change the very political and economic landscape of the continent bringing Eurasia stability, prosperity.”
Xi said Beijing plans to announce dozens of new investment and other agreements during the two-day event.
Other leaders at the gathering included Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan and President Michelle Bachelet of Chile. No major Western leaders attended, though Britain, France and Germany were represented by top finance officials.
The U.S. delegation was led by Matt Pottinger, special assistant to Trump and senior director for East Asia at the National Security Council.
The United States and other governments have said “Belt and Road” is a natural outgrowth of China’s status as the biggest global trader and they welcome the investment. But they also have expressed concern Beijing might undermine human rights and international standards for lending or leave poor countries with too much debt.
Most of the Chinese financing is loans, instead of grants.
India delivered an implicit criticism of China’s initiative Saturday in a statement that said such an initiative should meet international norms and not create unsustainable debt.
India has objected to Chinese state-owned companies working in the Pakistani-held part of Kashmir, the Himalayan region claimed by both sides. New Delhi sees that as an endorsement of Pakistan’s control.
“No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement said.
Some diplomats and political analysts say Beijing is trying to create a political and economic network centered on China, push the United States out of the region and rewrite rules on trade and security.
Xi promised to avoid forming a “small group” of allies, which he said might harm regional stability.
Instead, he said, Beijing wants “partnerships of friendship” and a “big family of harmonious coexistence.”
Associated Press writers Matthew Brown and Gillian Wong in Beijing and Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi contributed to this report.