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Xi Jinping Calls for More Countries to Join China’s Belt and Road Initiative

“We need to encourage the full participation of more countries and companies,” the Chinese president said at the event at a government conference center outside Beijing

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China's President Xi Jinping speaks at a press conference at the end of the final day of the Belt and Road Forum at the China National Convention Centere at the Yanqi Lake venue, outside Beijing, April 27, 2019. VOA

President Xi Jinping called Saturday for more countries to join China’s sprawling infrastructure-building initiative in the face of U.S. opposition to a project Washington worries is increasing Beijing’s strategic influence.

Xi spoke at a gathering of leaders to celebrate the multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, his signature foreign project. The upbeat tone of the two-day forum, at which Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders praised the initiative, is a setback for the Trump administration, which is trying to discourage other countries from participating.

Xi promised Friday to promote high financial, environmental and other standards in response to complaints about debt and other problems. That has the potential to heighten tensions with Washington by attracting more participants.

“We need to encourage the full participation of more countries and companies,” the Chinese president said at the event at a government conference center outside Beijing.

Xi tried to dispel complaints Belt and Road does little for developing countries that have borrowed from Beijing to build ports, railways and other facilities. Xi said his government wants to “deliver benefits to all.”

Other governments welcomed the initiative launched in 2013 to increase trade by building ports, railways and other infrastructure across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. But some are struggling to repay Chinese loans, which has fueled complaints about a possible “debt trap.”

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Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers his speech at the opening ceremony of the second Belt and Road Forum, in Beijing, April 26, 2019. VOA

Critics also complain too much of the work goes to Chinese state-owned companies and the initiative might lead to corruption and environmental damage.

The United States, Russia, Japan and India worry Beijing is eroding their influence. American officials have warned other governments about potential debt problems and China’s possible political motives.

Xi’s government is trying to revive momentum for Belt and Road after the number of new projects slumped last year. That followed official announcements that Chinese lenders would examine borrowers more closely and concerns by some governments about Beijing’s rising influence.

On Friday, Xi promised to embrace international financial, environmental and other standards. He pledged to work more closely with multinational entities and to open projects dominated by Chinese state-owned companies wider to private and foreign contractors.

Despite U.S. opposition, the Chinese government says the number of countries have signed agreements to support the initiative has risen to 115 from 65.

Beijing scored a diplomatic coup in March when Italy, a member of the Group of Seven major economies, signed an agreement to support Belt and Road. On Friday, Putin said Belt and Road fits with Moscow’s initiative to develop a common market with four of its neighbors.

The Chinese leader repeated his promise to adopt “widely accepted rules and standards” and encourage Belt and Road countries to follow global standards for project development, purchasing and operations.

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FILE – Workers inspect railway tracks for the Belt and Road freight rail route linking Chongqing, China, with Duisburg, Germany, at the Dazhou railway station in Sichuan province, China March 14, 2019. VOA

“We welcome the participation of multilateral and international financial institutions in Belt and Road investment and financing, and we encourage third market cooperation,” said Xi. “With involvement of multiple stake holders we can surely deliver benefits to all.”

Xi’s promises on debt, transparency and anti-corruption “will be well received by some BRI countries and outside observers,” Kelsey Broderick of Eurasia Group in a report. Others including the European Union “will wait to see actual implementation.”

Chinese lenders have provided $440 billion in financing for Belt and Road projects, the country’s central bank governor, Yi Gang, said Thursday.

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Beijing is ordering Chinese state-owned companies to pay more attention to local economic development, benefits for local residents and environmental protection, the chairman of the Cabinet agency that oversees national-level government industries said Thursday, according to a transcript on the agency website.

Xi’s government also has tried to defuse tensions with Belt and Road participants by renegotiating debts or offering other concessions. Ethiopia’s government announced Wednesday that Beijing had forgiven interest payments owed by the northeast African nation through the end of 2018. (VOA)

Next Story

Nepal Government Pushes Journalists to Avoid Critical Reporting on China, Tibet

Nepal is careful in dealing with Tibet issues to avoid offending its powerful neighbor

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FILE - An earthquake survivor reads a newspaper at a shelter camp in Kathmandu, April 29, 2015. VOA

Government officials in Nepal are pushing journalists to avoid critical reporting on China, one of the nation’s largest investors as part of Beijing’s One Belt, One Road project, a Nepalese journalist told VOA.

Anil Giri, foreign affairs correspondent for the Kathmandu Post, said journalists are discouraged from covering Tibetan affairs to mollify China and that government officials shy away from commenting on China-related issues.

China sponsors junkets for Nepalese journalists and “that’s why probably we don’t see lots of criticism about China’s growing investment in Nepal, Chinese doing business in Nepal and China’s growing political clout in Nepal,” Giri said.

He said Nepali government officials shy away from reporters seeking comments on China-related stories.

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Map of Nepal. VOA

Conduct found ‘unsatisfactory’

The sensitivities extend beyond the press. The Kathmandu Post reported earlier this week that the Samajbadi Party of Nepal suspended lawmaker Pradip Yadav for six months for attending a Tibet support conference in Europe last month. The party reached the decision after finding his explanation for attending a program called “Free Tibet” in the Latvian capital Riga “unsatisfactory.”

Nepal, one of the world’s poorest countries, shares borders with China and India. The border with China along the Himalayas passes through Tibet, which China considers part of its territory, a view rejected by many Tibetans.

China wants to control the movement of Tibetans to India, which started after a failed uprising in 1959. There are now about 20,000 exiled Tibetans living in Nepal.

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FILE – Nepal’s Foreign Secretary Shankar Das Bairagi and China’s Ambassador to Nepal Yu Hong, second from left, exchange documents during a signing ceremony relating to the One Belt One Road initiative in Kathmandu, May 12, 2017. VOA

Nepal and China signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on bilateral cooperation under the framework of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in May 2017. Nepal received foreign direct investment (FDI) pledges from China of $57 million in 2015-16, $76 million in fiscal 2016-17 and $427 million U.S. dollars in fiscal 2017-18, according to Xinhuanet.

Such investment comes at a price, said Cedric Alviani, director of the Asia Bureau of Reporters Without Borders.

“For the Belt and Road Initiative to be fully successful” and reach its full potential as envisioned by China, “the population of every country taking part in the project has to be enthusiastic,” Alviani said. “But of course, just like any project led by a foreign country, there are many questions.”

Such questions must be suppressed when a country joins the Belt and Road project, Alviani said, adding, “For this development to become successful, the media must be muzzled.”

Reporters Without Borders has accused China of creating a “new world media order.” The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

Nepal is careful in dealing with Tibet issues to avoid offending its powerful neighbor, Giri said.

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Tibetan spiritual leader The Dalai Lama arrives at Gaggal Airport in Kangra, April 26, 2019. The Dalai Lama was discharged from a New Delhi hospital three days after being admitted with a chest infection. VOA

Journalists investigated

In June, Nepalese government officials began investigating three journalists from a state-run news agency Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS) who reported on the discharge of the Dalai Lama from a New Delhi hospital. The agency’s chair, Hari Adhikari, told Indian news outlets that the issue was “very sensational for us.”

Gokul Baskota, Nepal’s minister of communications and information technology, told the Kathmandu Post that he ordered the investigation. “We should be sensitive to our neighbor’s concerns,” he told the newspaper.

Dilliram Batarai, one of four members of a committee assigned by RSS chairman Harikar Adhikari, said, “RSS is a state-run news agency, however, and our investigation will be guided by Nepal’s relationship with China, by the One-China policy, and by Nepal’s foreign policy. So we report to higher authorities.”

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said, “Presumably, the price of friendship for some governments is to prevent anything that reflects poorly on China, and any reminder of the repression in Tibet is something that does reflect very poorly.”

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“Nepal has been shutting down peaceful protests by Tibetans, even when it comes to displaying flags or posters,” Ganguly said. Giri said it is not a lack of Nepali people’s interest in Tibet, but the government’s fear of China that puts discussion of Tibet off-limits.

“There is extreme pressure from China. The expanding cloud of influence or pressure from China over different sectors” means people are afraid to speak openly for the Tibetan refugee community, he added.

But China wants even “the idea of independent journalism to disappear,” Aviani said. “And this might happen in one or two generations if democracies do not react and fight against it.” (VOA)