China’s Xi warns against decoupling, lauds Belt and Road at forum

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Reuters | by  Laurie Chen and Yew Lun Tian | October 18, 2023

Source: China’s Xi warns against decoupling, lauds Belt and Road at forum | Reuters Summary:

  • Chinese President Xi Jinping opens the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) forum, warning against decoupling from China and criticizing Western efforts to reduce dependence on the Chinese economy.
  • Xi highlights the success of the BRI in building global infrastructure and energy networks, emphasizing the shift towards high-tech projects and green initiatives.
  • Representatives from over 130 countries attend the forum, with Putin among the prominent guests, as Xi calls for cooperation, opposes unilateral sanctions, and pushes for global AI governance.

BEIJING, Oct 18 (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping warned against decoupling from China as he opened the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) forum in Beijing on Wednesday, criticizing Western efforts to reduce dependence on the Chinese economy.

Xi also lauded his grand plan launched 10 years ago of building global infrastructure and energy networks connecting Asia with Africa and Europe through overland and maritime routes, saying that “blueprints turned into real projects”.

Representatives of more than 130 countries, largely from the Global South, attended the forum including several heads of state, of whom the most prominent was Xi’s “dear friend” Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“We stand against unilateral sanctions, economic coercion, decoupling and supply chain disruption,” Xi told more than 1,000 delegates gathered in an ornate conference room in the Great Hall of the People west of Tiananmen Square.

Putin and other foreign leaders sat with key Chinese officials from the 25-member Politburo on the front row, as Xi delivered his opening remarks.

Xi pushed against Western efforts to reduce dependence on Chinese economy, saying that, “our lives will not be better and our development will not be faster if we view the development of others as a threat and economic interdependence as a risk.”

Western leaders insist that their goal is to “de-risk”, not “decouple”, from China, saying that they want to diversify supply chains that have become overly dependent on the world’s second-largest economy.

China’s threats to Taiwan and the trade disruptions of the pandemic years have added urgency to the desire to limit their dependence on China.

Although BRI at first set out to connect China to Western Europe, senior EU figures were missing. The sole head of state present from the bloc was Hungary’s populist Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Other notable attendees included the Afghan Taliban administration’s commerce minister Haji Nooruddin Azizi.

“China has more interest right now in developing Afghanistan at this moment, so we are more engaged with China. The Chinese have more interest in economic affairs, that’s why we’re here,” Azizi told a gaggle of reporters at the ceremony.


Western scepticism of Xi’s grand plans stems from suspicions over the way it would extend China’s global influence, analysts say. China has at times bristled at criticism of the BRI, saying it carries anti-Chinese prejudice and a wish to contain its rise, while overlooking what it says are genuine good intentions.

Analysts have also said some of China’s infrastructure lending through the project has saddled poor countries with loans they can’t repay.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, whose country owes China more than $20 billion, emphasized in a speech that BRI projects “must not complicate (countries’) fiscal conditions”.

In an address that followed Xi’s, Putin praised the BRI and invited global investment in the Northern Sea route which he said could deepen trade between east and west. Several European officials left the hall as Putin took to the stage.

During a three-hour meeting on the sidelines of the conference, Xi told Putin that both sides should explore cooperation in strategic emerging industries and deepen regional cooperation.

“China hopes that the China-Mongolia-Russia natural gas pipeline project will make substantive progress as soon as possible,” Xi said according to a state media readout.

Both leaders also had “in-depth” discussions on the Middle East conflict, state broadcaster CCTV reported without giving further details.

After the meeting, Putin was filmed accompanied by officers carrying the so-called nuclear briefcase which can be used to order a nuclear strike.

Xi is making the Belt and Road smaller and greener, moving away from big-ticket projects like dams to high-tech ones such as digital finance and e-commerce platforms.

The aim is to aid a broader push for a world order that is multi-polar and gives the Global South more agency, rather than one dominated by Washington and its allies, analysts say.

The BRI has also become more focused on issues such as climate change and artificial intelligence, as Xi seeks to use it to export Chinese ideas about governance and build consensus around Chinese norms and its development model, analysts say.

On Wednesday, Xi reinforced those trends, pledging to “deepen cooperation in green infrastructure, energy and transportation,” and “put forward global initiative for artificial intelligence governance.”

After Xi’s speech, China’s foreign ministry said the country would push to create a United Nations body to regulate AI, adding that Beijing opposes “malicious obstructing” of other countries’ AI development, a likely reference to the Biden administration’s efforts to block export of advanced AI chips to China.

A European business representative, who did not want to be named for sensitivity reasons, said on the sidelines of the ceremony that BRI was, “creating impact for some of the countries involved” and that, “I think there is some truth to some of the speeches about improving livelihood and connectivity.”

Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista Editing by Antoni Slodkowski, Simon Cameron-Moore, Don Durfee and Chizu Nomiyama.

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