China to recalibrate Belt and Road, defend scheme: Report
Beijing looks to readjust Belt and Road initiative as partner nations bemoan cost of grand infrastructure plan
BEIJING: China is expected to promote a recalibrated version of its Belt and Road initiative at a summit of heads of state this week in Beijing, seeking to allay criticism that its flagship infrastructure policy fuels indebtedness and lacks transparency.
The policy championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping has become mired in controversy, with some partner nations bemoaning the high cost of projects.
While most of the initiative's projects are ongoing, some have been caught up by changes in government in countries such as Malaysia and the Maldives.
Projects that have been shelved for financial reasons include a power plant in Pakistan and an airport in Sierra Leone, and Beijing has in recent months had to rebuff critics by saying that not one country has been burdened with so-called "debt traps".
Mr Xi launched the Belt and Road initiative in 2013, and according to data from Refinitiv, the total value of projects in the scheme is $3.67 trillion, spanning countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, Oceania and South America.
A draft communique seen by Reuters said that 37 world leaders attending the April 25 to 27 summit will agree to project financing that respects global debt goals and promotes green growth.
Visiting leaders will be headlined by Russia's Mr Vladimir Putin, as well as Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy.
The US, which has not joined the Belt and Road, is expected to send only a lower-level delegation, and nobody from Washington.
Some Belt and Road projects "are going through a period of rationalisation and evaluation," said Mr Li Lifan, deputy director general of the Centre for Belt and Road Initiative Studies at the government-backed Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
The summit "will be a time for reflection and to talk about the hopes for the future," he told Reuters.
Industry insiders and diplomats say that there has been a shift in the way Beijing has been pushing Belt and Road overseas since the first such summit two years ago.
"The political part is handled by the foreign ministry now, not the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)," said a senior Western diplomat in China, referring to the country's state planner which drafted the initiative's official outline in 2015.
Other analysts said there was a noticeable change in China's overseas efforts to market the policy in the second half of 2018.
In an unusual move, at least 10 of China's ambassadors and diplomats in countries such as Mexico and Kenya published letters in local media outlets to defend the initiative.
Mr William Klein, Minister Counsellor for Political Affairs at the US embassy in Beijing, told a forum earlier this month that the US continued to have concerns about the Belt and Road.
"These concerns, for example, are opaque financing practices, poor governance and a failure to adhere to internationally accepted norms and standards."- REUTERS
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