BEIJING – Leaders from across the world have started arriving in Beijing to attend the second international conference on China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative that aims to connect the world via new land and maritime networks for global economic activities.
Leaders from 150 countries and international organizations will be attending the three-day conference beginning Thursday on the infrastructure development project that began almost six years ago to wire the world together with new trade routes.
Beijing says the objective is to create a global community with a shared future, although the initiative has generated doubts at the international level with many nations suspecting that it may be China’s tool of cultivating its influence and burden countries with debt.
China rejects the charge and has claimed that it has made a direct investment of 90 billion yuan ($13,387 million) in the countries involved in the project since it was inaugurated in 2013 by President Xi Jinping.
Most of the 150 countries and global organizations have in one form or the other joined the initiative that seeks to expand trade roots among its members and build new infrastructures on land and water especially in Eurasia, Africa and America.
The participants will include 37 heads of state or government. Among the presidents or prime ministers likely to attend are from Italy, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Chile, Austria, Switzerland, Singapore, Philippines, Kenya, Pakistan, Egypt, Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia, Mongolia, Vietnam and Thailand.
Many western countries won’t send their top leaders to attend the meeting. These include the US, Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Australia and Spain. However, they their high-ranking representatives are expected at the event.
It is expected that Xi will begin the meeting on April 26 with a speech, to be followed by a round table with the presiding leader.
On Thursday, there will be a forum of leaders, especially from the business community, about which no details have been shared.
China says the project- also known as new Silk Road initiative – will create a world of lasting peace, security and common welfare.
However, environmental and human rights organizations have cast doubts.
In a statement released earlier this week, Human Rights Watch said that the “Chinese government should ensure the projects it finances or engages in under the Belt and Road Initiative respect human rights.”
It also urged Beijing to, “enable meaningful consultation with groups of people potentially affected.”
Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at HRW, said that the “criticisms of some Belt and Road projects, such as lack of transparency, disregard of community concerns, and threats of environmental degradation, suggest a superficial commitment” with the countries where it is operating.
The nonprofit denounced the lack of studies or publications of the social and environmental impact of the projects which it believes is “inconsistent with basic obligations of states under international human rights law concerning a healthy and sustainable environment.”
The lack of transparency in agreements between China and the participating countries has also worried nonprofits.
According to HRW, China should commit itself to resolving such issues through transparent practices, respect for peaceful protest, and dialog with affected communities.