Xi’s New Silk Road Forum Sets Chinese Tone for Globalization 2.0

  • Draft communique promotes China’s trade and economic positions
  • Some diplomats say other countries’ input in draft was limited

Xi Jinping's 'One Belt, One Road' Initiative

China will ask 28 world leaders to sign on to President Xi Jinping’s signature initiative on globalization, bolstering a range of Chinese foreign policy objectives, according to people familiar with the draft communique. Not everyone is yet in agreement.

The Belt and Road Forum is Xi’s cornerstone initiative to connect China with Europe, Asia and Africa through infrastructure projects. Not only is it a showcase for Xi’s globalization credentials that he championed in a speech at Davos in January, but the high-profile event will also serve as a counterpoint to America’s inward pivot under President Donald Trump.

China’s Plan to Reshape World Trade

Source: Bloomberg

A draft communique combines commitments to open international markets with endorsements of China’s diplomatic goals, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The communique will oppose protectionism and warn that the global trading regime is facing headwinds and that economic recovery is fragile.

But some diplomats in Beijing said the Chinese government has not given sufficient consideration to input from their countries while preparing the draft set for release Monday at the end of the two-day summit in the capital.

"It’s likely to backfire a little on the Chinese," Dennis Wilder, former senior director for Asia at the U.S. National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, said of the draft. "There will be some sense in Europe and the U.S. that China is making the mistakes you’d expect to see of a major power that’s just coming into its own. It’s a little bit full of itself and enthralled with its new position and it can be tone deaf to others."

The document includes a pledge to oppose all forms of protectionism, language which was removed from a communique issued by Group of 20 finance ministers in March at the insistence of the Trump administration.

Read More: G-20 Drops Anti-Protectionist Pledge as Price of U.S. Assent

The document also includes a statement of support for the Paris Agreement on climate change, another topic Trump officials asked to be removed from the G-20 communique. The U.S. has not yet said who it will send to the Beijing summit.

The draft language, which is subject to change, also includes standard Chinese diplomatic appeals for signatories to respect the territorial integrity of countries and to consult with each other on an equal footing, phrases China often uses to discourage outside challenges to its territorial claims on Taiwan and the South China Sea.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not reply to a faxed request seeking comment.

Xi proposed the initiative then known as the Silk Road in 2013 and will host more than two dozen heads of state including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on May 14-15. Credit Suisse Group AG estimates the plan could funnel investments worth as much as $502 billion into 62 countries over five years.

Read More: Credit Suisse Says Belt-Road Plan May Top $500 Billion

The document emphasizes themes that Xi has made central to his international remarks on global development, including triangular cooperation and South-South cooperation, an idea he emphasized in a September 2015 speech before the United Nations General Assembly.

"What it represents is President Xi himself feeling very confident about China’s ascendancy. He got great coverage of his remarks at Davos, and he’s feeling as if the United States has ceded a lot of ground in the international arena to him," said Wilder, a former China military analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency.

State media have referred to the initiative’s ambitions as reflecting "globalization 2.0." Belt and Road is "restructuring the global production value chain amid profound changes in the post-crisis world," the official Xinhua News Agency reported in March from the Boao Forum in Hainan province, where leaders of nations from Madagascar to Micronesia spoke to the annual economic conference about their ambitions to take part in the sprawling framework.

The communique repeats China’s claim Belt and Road will be inclusive and open to other countries, as well as complement existing regional frameworks. The draft includes pledges of support to 13 separate regional bodies and cooperation agreements ranging from the European Union to the African Union and Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

That very inclusiveness, though, may create opposition. The organizations the document pledges to support include the Eurasian Economic Union, a regional body championed by Putin that former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described in 2012 as an effort to "re-Sovietize" the neighboring region.

Watch Next: China Plans to Reshape World Trade

A quickTake explainer on the Silk Road

The fact that China’s diplomatic priorities are central to the initiative shouldn’t be surprising, said Wilder, who is a senior fellow with the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University in Washington. "The Chinese often go too far with these things, particularly when it’s an event on their own soil and when it involves a leader who has put their name to it."

— With assistance by Keith Zhai, and Peter Martin

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