China today put up a staunch defence of its Belt and Road Initiative ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s key Congress, claiming that the project has global support and Chinese firms have invested $560 billion overseas and created millions of jobs in host countries. Addressing the media in a carefully choreographed press conference where reporters were assigned questions in advance, CPC’s spokesman Tuo Zhen responded to queries on the criticism related to the BRI of which the $50 billion China- Pakistan-Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a part. Skirting references to the CPEC, Tuo said since the BRI initiative was launched, “It was recognised and welcomed by the international community. The initiative has been incorporated into several UN documents.” Refuting criticism that China is transferring its excess industrial capacity through the BRI, Tuo said “between 2013 and 2016 Chinese companies have invested about $560 billion overseas, paid over $100 billion in various kind of taxes to the host countries and created millions of jobs for the local communities.” He said the investments have helped the receiving countries to transform their resources and labour power for development. “The investment by Chinese companies has been welcomed by the host countries,” he said. “China has developed partnerships of various forms with about 100 countries, regions and regional organisations. China’s circle of friends is widening day by day,” he said.
Launched in 2013 as “one belt, one road”, the BRI involves China underwriting billions of dollars of infrastructure investment in countries along the old Silk Road linking it with Europe. The CPEC passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), over which India has conveyed its protests to China. The area covers Karakoram mountain ranges, including the Siachen glacier. India skipped the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) in May this year due to its sovereignty concerns over the CPEC, a flagship project of China’s prestigious Silk Road project.
The Trump administration recently threw its weight behind India’s opposition to CPEC, saying the project passes through “disputed territory” and no country should dictate the Belt and Road initiative. “In a globalised world, there are many belts and many roads, and no one nation should put itself into a position of dictating ‘one belt, one road’,” US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis had told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing.
The massive investments, especially into countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan, has raised criticism over these countries’ ability to pay back the loans as well as secrecy surrounding the investments. Sri Lanka which owed about USD eight billion of Chinese loans, recently signed agreement to hand over its Hambantota port to China for long lease under $1.2 billion debt swap. Defending the BRI, Tuo said China advocated international cooperation on production capacity aimed at leveraging the production capacities of all countries to service their developed needs and to build a more balanced inclusive global industrial chain.
“It is not for the purpose of transferring backward capacity. Actually the logic is simple. In a highly open international market Chinese companies face fierce competition from local companies and international firms. Backward and surplus capacity has no market. Only high quality capacity can win the competition,” he said.
The Communist Party of China’s once-in-a-five-year Congress which is set to endorse a second term for the Chinese President Xi Jinping and elect a new set of leaders to work with him would begin here tomorrow and conclude on October 24.