China calls for new regional order, defends Silk Road plan

Boao, China (dpa) — Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the world’s nations on Saturday to support Beijing’s ideas for a new development bank and “Silk Road” strategy to serve Asia.

The development bank and plans to improve overland and maritime trade and transport routes were focal points of the annual Boao Forum for Asia on the southern island of Hainan.

“Facing the fast-changing regional and international landscapes, we must see the whole picture, follow the trends of our times and build a new regional order that is more favourable to Asia and the world,” Xi told the delegates

China, he said, would promote “coordinated development between the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and multilateral financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank and World Bank”.

Xi also announced Chinese investment abroad will exceed $500 billion and China would import $10 trillion worth of goods over the next five years.

“Being a big country means shouldering more responsibility for world peace and development,” he said.

Xi said a roadmap for China’s proposed strategy had been developed with the aim of improving trade and transport links in Asia.

By speeding up connectivity-building “we can turn the seas of Asia into seas of peace and cooperation between Asian countries”, Xi said.

The “New Silk Road Economic Belt” plan aims to improve the infrastructure linking China to Europe through Central Asia and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” plan aims to strengthen maritime cooperation.

“The maritime silk road … focuses on South and Southeast Asian counties as well as building connections with some African and European countries,” State Councillor Yang Jiechi told forum delegates.

China has already built joint economic zones and ports in partnership with countries including Vietnam, Laos, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Greece and Sri Lanka, Yang said, adding that other pilot projects are currently being explored.

“Let me reiterate the Maritime Silk Road will not include issues of controversy,” Yang said.

“The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is not an instrument for geopolitical advantages, it is for the public good.”

Analysts say this year’s meeting is especially important to China as its leadership seeks to promote the two initiatives and increase its regional influence.

Some critics have expressed concern that China is trying to undermine existing financial institutions and would use the “Silk Road” model to strengthen its position in maritime territorial disputes.

The forum continued on Saturday as Russia announced its interest in joining the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will announce on Sunday that Canberra also plans to join the bank, Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said at the forum on Saturday evening.

The bank, due to be established later this year, is seen by some as a potential rival to the US-dominated International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and the Japanese-dominated Asian Development Bank.

“There’s been a lot of noise about transparency and governance of the AIIB but since it’s just starting the criticisms may be premature,” former Pakistani prime minister Shuakat Aziz said at a forum discussion on Saturday.

Li Ruogu, former chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of China, said AIIB founders would work together to develop better governance.

“I avoid using the words ‘best practice’ or ‘best governance’,” said Li. “If there is already a best, then there is no room for progress … we can learn from current practice but there is always some room to improve.”

China has hosted the annual conference in Hainan’s Boao resort area since 2002. Its founders hope it can evolve into an Asian version of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Leaders of Austria, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Armenia, Uganda and Zambia as well as the governor-general of Australia were among several hundred delegates attending the event.

News analysis: Economic leaders debate China’s rising role in global finance

Boao, China (dpa) – Chinese President Xi Jinping urged mutual trust to replace lingering suspicions among the world’s nations, as he led the annual Boao economic forum for Asia on the weekend.

“Asia still faces numerous challenges, including those old issues left over from history and new ones associated with current disputes and security threats,” Xi told the delegates.

“But the Cold War mentality should be truly discarded and new security concepts be nurtured as we explore a path for Asia that ensures security for all.”

The annual forum, which China has hosted on the southern island of Hainan since 2002, is being followed closely this year as the launch of the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) has gripped international observers.

“On the one hand, countries are threatened by China’s rise, and on the other they are attracted by the possible financial benefits and want to be part of China’s success,” independent Beijing-based analyst Zhang Lifan told dpa.

The United States opposes Beijing’s plan to set up the bank by the end of the year to fund rail, road, power and other projects, citing concerns over transparency and corporate governance in China.

The US Treasury Department also said the initiative is a deliberate effort to undercut the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB), institutions established in the mid-20th century that are dominated by the US and Japan.

Washington’s reported attempts to pressure allies in Europe and Australia to refrain from joining the initiative seem to have failed.

Australia intends to join the China-led bank as a founding member, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Sunday.

Britain, Germany, France and Italy have decided to join, while Russia signed up to the plan on Saturday.

The initiative was also received with enthusiasm among forum delegates.

“Before, if you were in trouble you had to go either to the World Bank or ADB, but now there is an alternative,” said Atul Shunglu, assistant secretary-general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

“The AIIB can push existing institutions to become more flexible” Atul said.

Cyril Muller, vice president of the World Bank Group, admitted Sunday the World Bank is “getting a strong push to change quickly.”

“Each of the world’s [major financial institutions] learn from each other, and I pretty much share the view that starting with a clean sheet of paper is a good idea,” Muller told forum delegates.

But he objected to the view that there is tension in the World Bank between the US, Japan and Europe on one side and emerging countries on the other.

“It’s not totally true. There are groups that blend these sets of interests and this helps build consensus and understanding,” Muller said.

Speakers at the forum said the US could have avoided its position of isolation in resistance to the bank.

“If the US had ratified IMF reforms, then the debate over global [financial] governance architecture would be very different today,” former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Sunday.

Rudd was referring to a 2010 agreement by the Group of 20 (G20) industrialized and emerging economies to modestly democratize the International Monetary Fund and expand its lending resources.

Xi and other leaders also promoted Beijing’s vision for the “Silk Road Economic Belt,” which he first proposed in 2013.

Xi said a strategy has been developed to improve trade and transport links in Asia.

The New Silk Road Economic Belt seeks to upgrade infrastructure linking China to Europe through Central Asia, and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road plan aims to strengthen maritime cooperation.

China has already built joint economic zones and ports in partnership with countries including Vietnam, Laos, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Cambodia, Greece and Sri Lanka.

Some critics have expressed concern that China would use the “silk road” model to strengthen its position in maritime territorial disputes with Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.

In his speech, Xi did not make any direct reference to territorial disputes.

US senators expressed alarm this month about China’s construction projects to expand small islands it claims in the South China Sea.

Without naming the US, Xi urged delegates to “oppose interference in other countries’ internal affairs and attempts to destabilize the region out of selfish motives.”

China has a lot to gain from a successful silk road plan, analysts told dpa.

“The goal is no simple link between China and Europe, it’s about building a China-centric, cross-regional network infrastructure,” said Moritz Rudolf, of the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin.

“Projects in the Silk Road initiative would fill the order books of Chinese state-owned enterprises and create new jobs in the country,” Rudolf said.

“With the expansion of the Eurasian transport infrastructure, the government could also lay the foundations for new China-centered production networks, for example with Chinese companies moving production to Southeast Asia, and open up new trade routes, markets and sources of energy.

“China’s position as a trading power would thus be strengthened.”

More news coverage from Boao Forum: “World Bank admits to ‘pressure’ as China-backed AIIB bank gains support”   

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