China’s Road and Belt Program Plans “draw 60 percent of the world’s population and 30 percent of the world’s total economic production”

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16-5-2017

Leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum wave as they pose for a group photo at the Yanqi Lake venue on the outskirt of Beijing, China, May 15, 2017

Countries involved in China’s Belt and Road development program have agreed on an action plan for a long list of goals.

Twenty-nine heads of state met in Beijing for two days during the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. Vladimir Putin was among the leaders attending. Officials from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also were there.

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke at the gathering on Sunday.

He said no country can rely only on itself in a world in which nations are interdependent and face worldwide problems.

China has promised $124 billion for infrastructure and development projects in countries taking part in the Belt and Road project.

The broad plan includes a “Silk Road Economic Belt” for trade activity on land, and a “Maritime Silk Road” for trade over the sea. The term “Silk Road” describes the ancient trade paths that connected China and Europe and the world.

The proposal involves many borders, trade routes

Xi’s plan is very large, spreading across continents and many countries.

“We have every reason to have full confidence in the prospects for the Belt and Road initiative,” said Xi. “At the same time, the Belt and Road initiative is an expansive project and the road ahead is very long and cooperation is key.”

VOA spoke to University of Chicago political science professor Dali Yang about the project.

He said that Xi did not offer details about when loans would be made. He said that Chinese banks were still trying to recover from bad past experiences in countries such as Venezuela.

A Map shows China's "Belt and Road" megaproject at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, last year

A Map shows China’s “Belt and Road” megaproject at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, last year

More than 100 countries and organizations attended the meeting in Beijing. Most welcomed China’s effort to increase trade. However, not all countries have officially supported the project.

Some countries, such as the United States and North Korea, were present as observers.

Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Brigitte Zypries, attended the meeting. She said German companies, but not the government, had asked to take part. But, she added that more information was needed.

“It is obviously relevant to know what is going to be built and (that) the procedures to take part in this building are the same for every company and every country,” she said.

U.S. officials also voiced concerns about openness and fairness.

A way to fight many problems

During his speech on Sunday, Xi described his plan and presented development as a way to fight many problems, from terrorism to poverty.

China is already pushing development in Asia through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The Belt and Road effort calls for the creation of six economic corridors, or areas, that would link up to 65 countries by land and sea.

These nations represent 60 percent of the world’s population and 30 percent of the world’s total economic production.

It is estimated the total cost to all countries involved would be $900 billion.

China is proposing to provide $124 billion of that total. In 2016, Chinese companies invested $170 billion in foreign projects.

The plan also includes cooperation on scientific and social development. Xi has offered to establish 50 scientific laboratories in countries taking part. He also has promised to train 5,000 foreign scientists and invite 500 foreign research groups to visit China.

The plan also will launch hundreds of anti-poverty projects and health care projects, Xi said.

Some experts say China may be trying to increase its worldwide influence too quickly.

Mohan Malik is with the Institute of Asian Security in Hawaii. He says China is seeking to build, in his words, an “empire.” But he warns that China risks “imperial overreach” by attempting such a huge group of projects.

David Kelly directs research at the private group China Policy. He says that, if the program succeeds, many could benefit. But he notes that the outcome could be a measure of China’s influence in the world – good or bad.

“If it doesn’t work, if it runs into problems, if it’s impractical, if it’s too costly, if it falls over, it will cost China’s standing in the world. And that is what worries the people.”

I’m Mario Ritter.

Bill Ide and Saibal Dasgupta reported this story for VOA News with additional material from Victor Beattie. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

Source: VoA