Chinese President Xi Jinping highlighted innovation, green investment and the need for transparency in Belt and Road projects, as he slammed protectionism and called for more free trade at the opening of the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing on Friday.
Here are some key takeaways from his speech.
Taking stock of the progress since the first Belt and Road Forum in 2017, Xi noted that over 150 countries and organizations had signed cooperation agreements with China, adding that “Belt and Road cooperation has opened up new space for global economic growth (and) produced new platforms for international trade and investment.”
The initiative, which Xi proposed in 2013, has “generated new opportunities” for partners and “created new horizons” for China’s opening-up drive, he added.
Condemning protectionism, he promised more free trade deals as part of the BRI, as well as strengthened cooperation in customs, taxation, auditing and supervision.
“The flow of goods, capital, technology and people will power economic growth,” he said.
Going forward, the focus also needed to be on “results-oriented implementation” rather than mere talk. Xi called for tapping into the strengths of all BRI participants, highlighting the importance of consultation, cooperation and shared benefits.
Green investment + sustainability
Even as the BRI has focused on infrastructure, such as rail and road links, ports and other major construction projects, Xi urged participants not to overlook the need for green investment and to remember who the projects were for.
“We need to pursue an open, green and clean cooperation,” he said, calling for the promotion of green infrastructure projects and green financing.
He noted that “the Belt and Road is not an exclusive club” and the goal should also be to improve lives and promote sustainability. “We need to take a people-centered approach, give priority to poverty alleviation and job creation.”
Sustainable development, as well as cooperation in the areas of disaster mitigation, environmental protection and health should also be priorities.
“Clean” projects were not only environmentally friendly ones but also transparent ones, Xi added, vowing “zero tolerance for corruption.”
Hard infrastructure, the New Eurasian Land Bridge and other key corridors that are part of the Belt and Road will remain a cornerstone of the BRI, Xi said.
But digital connectivity is equally vital, he added, calling for a Silk Road of Innovation. Already in the works are plans to build joint laboratories, cooperate on science and technology parks, facilitate technology transfers, and promote exchanges and training for Chinese and foreign talents.
Further effort also needs to go into helping countries build advanced information and communication networks, Xi said.
With the Belt and Road Initiative aiming to bridge distances between countries and create a more interconnected world, cooperation should not only happen in the science sector but in all areas, including education, culture, sports and archaeology, as well as between parliamentarians, NGOs and other civil society groups.
Xi also made five pledges on China’s behalf, promising reforms to: expand market access for foreign investment, strengthen international cooperation on intellectual property protection, increase imports of goods and services, boost international macro-economic policy coordination, and generally ensure that bilateral and multilateral deals are implemented in good faith and the rule of law is obeyed.
At least 40 world leaders and heads of international organizations, including UN chief Antonio Guterres, IMF head Christina Lagarde, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, are attending the three-day forum, which opened on Thursday.