China's Xi defends his Belt and Road Initiative

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) must be green and sustainable, President Xi Jinping said opening a summit on his grand strategy in Beijing in the presence of 37 world leaders on Friday. Xi’s plan to rebuild the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond has become mired in controversy.

 In his keynote speech Chinese President sought to ease growing concerns about BRI, vowing to prevent debt risks and saying his global infrastructure project "is not an exclusive club". “Operate in the sun and fight corruption together with zero tolerance,” Xi said. “Building high-quality, sustainable, risk-resistant, reasonably priced, and inclusive infrastructure will help countries to fully utilize their resource endowments,” he added.

Many Western leaders consider the plan as a means to spread Chinese influence abroad, saddling poor countries with unsustainable debt. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani PM Imran Khan and Italian PM Giuseppe Conte, whose country became the first G7 member to sign up to Belt and Road, arrived in Beijing for the summit. Germany and France sent ministers instead. The US, which sent a senior White House official to the first BRI summit in 2017, has not dispatched any officials from Washington. Amid tensions over trade and other diplomatic spats, Washington has dismissed BRI as a "vanity project" and rebuked Rome for signing up to the scheme. Xi will give another speech on Saturday.

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