In the weeks before Donald Trump began his fiasco-filled trip to the Middle East and Europe,
and Americans cluelessly focused on Trump’s personality,
instead of the way he is systematically instituting the mainstream Republican agenda of destroying American power from the inside,
President Xi Jinping of China delivered a sweeping vision of a new economic global order,
positioning his country as an alternative to an inward-looking United States under Trump.
Surrounded by autocratic leaders from Russia and Central Asia at a forum in Beijing,
Xi pledged more than $100 billion for development banks in China
that he said would spearhead vast spending on infrastructure across Asia, Europe and Africa.
Noticeably absent from the gathering were leaders — although not representatives — of major Western democracies.
Sparing no modesty for the plan, Xi called the initiative — known as “One Belt, One Road”, aka OBOR — “this project of the century.”
The program, based on Chinese-led investment in bridges, rails, ports and energy in over 60 countries,
form the backbone of China’s national / regional / and global economic and geopolitical agenda.
He portrayed the plan as “economic globalization that is open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial to all.”
China would invite the World Bank and other international institutions to join it in meeting the needs of developing — and developed — countries, he said,
in a suggestion that he is seeking to forge new markets and export China’s model of state-led expansion.
Xi stressed the differences between the United States system of alliances and his notion of commerce under China.
“We have no intention to form a small group that would dismantle stability but we hope to create a big family of harmonious coexistence,”
he said, with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, in the front row of the convention center where he spoke.
So far, China has spent only $50 billion on the initiative that Xi announced four years ago,
a relatively small amount compared with the vast domestic investment program.
But Xi told the audience —
made up of more than two dozen national leaders, envoys from more than 100 countries and officials from various financial institutions and businesses —
that he was increasing the amounts available to China’s main policy banks.
The China Development Bank and the Ex-Im Bank would dispense loans of $55 billion between them,
and the Silk Road Fund would receive an additional $14 billion, he said.
About $50 billion more would be directed at encouraging financial institutions to expand their overseas renminbi fund businesses.
The Chinese government has been planning the forum for months, introducing an extensive propaganda campaign on the initiative in state news media,
and squelching alternative views from skeptical scholars and state company executives worried about burning money.
Seeking validation for the project, China pressed Western countries and US allies to dispatch their leaders, but most declined, sending lower level officials instead.
Among the attendees were Britain’s chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond,
and Matthew Pottinger, senior director for Asia at the National Security Council.,
who said American firms were eager to work on the projects.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India did not turn up,
concerned about the significant infusion of Chinese money into its rival Pakistan.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, for his part, whose country has been a longtime ally of China,
said he was proud to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Beijing.
The Indian government said in a statement on the eve of the forum that the initiative risked “unsustainable debt burden for countries,”
a worry expressed by some Western economists who have studied the program.
China is not giving aid, they say, but is asking countries to assume debt from Chinese banks to pay for the infrastructure —
a strategy of foreign development pioneered by Japan during the 1960s.
Some officials from the US and Western Europe contend that China is spending abroad and corralling others to join it,
while keeping important sectors of its huge market at home off limits to foreign investors.
“The opening up of China for foreign businesses is still timid,”
said Joerg Wuttke, the former head of the European Chamber of Commerce in China.
Korea Developments Around And During OBOR Meeting
Hours before Xi was to speak, North Korea indulged in its usual immature theatrics and fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry criticized the North’s missile launch,
saying in a statement that it violated UN Security Council resolutions and asking for restraint.
Some delegates interpreted the test launch, the first since a new president took office in South Korea, as a deliberate effort to embarrass Xi.
Chinese news media were ordered to take down coverage of the launch an hour before Xi’s speech, Chinese reporters said.
Then, 30 minutes before Xi was to to speak, the delegations from North Korea and South Korea met briefly,
said a South Korean diplomat who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
It was fairly normal procedure, the diplomat said, for those delegations to meet at international gatherings.
Still, the encounter seemed to symbolize China’s interest in arranging talks on the North among all the parties, including the United States.
The South’s Yonhap news agency reported that
Park Byeong-seok, a senior member of the newly-elected Democratic Party of Korea, told the North’s delegation
that his government “strongly objected” to the missile test.
The presence of the North Korean delegation, led by Kim Yong-jae, the minister of economic relations, at a highly choreographed event drew criticism from the United States Embassy in Beijing.
The Trump administration has asked China to exercise pressure on the North but it is unclear what China has done to further cut its economic ties.
At Xi’s invitation, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea sent Park to the forum, a spokesman for the South Korean leader said.
The two leaders shared a phone conversation days after Moon was elected,
setting the stage for tense relations between the countries to improve.
Park met a former foreign minister of China, Tang Jiaxuan, in Beijing after the conference, South Korea said.
The talks centered on China’s strong opposition to the deployment of an American missile defense system, known as THAAD, in the South,
and how Moon plans to walk a fine line between the United States, its security guarantor, and China, its biggest trading partner.