Beijing has rejected “debt trap” criticisms of its massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), calling for skeptics not to impede other countries from participating in the global trade infrastructure project.
While 126 countries and 29 international organizations have signed cooperation agreements with China on the initiative, it is open to other players, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters on Friday.
“All countries have the freedom to participate, but they don’t have the right to prevent other countries from taking part,” Wang said. “We hope that more countries, including the United States, can actively participate in the ‘Belt and Road Initiative.’”
The second Belt and Road forum in Beijing is set to run from April 25 to 27, attracting nearly 40 foreign leaders and hundreds of representatives from 150 countries. The list of high-level guests includes Russian President Vladimir Putin, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan among others.
Meanwhile, the United States, a staunch critic of the project, has shrugged off the meeting, and its State Department said it will not send a high-level delegation to this year’s forum.
Speaking at a news conference, China’s top diplomat addressed some of the concerns voiced by BRI opponents, and rejected allegations that the program is forcing states into debt. He stated that the project is a platform for cooperation, but not a “geopolitical tool,” urging skeptics to base their evaluation of it on facts.
The initiative has already received international support, including from the World Bank and the UN, according to Wang. Trade turnover between China and the BRI participants has exceeded $6 trillion, while the project has created 300,000 jobs in the countries.
Beijing’s multi-billion-dollar plan has recently expanded further into Europe, as Switzerland became the latest country preparing to sign a deal under the new Silk Road project. It came shortly after Italy officially joined the initiative, while other EU states, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal, have their own a memoranda of understanding with China on the BRI.
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