China's President Xi Jinping says effort to build a new Silk Road will reject protectionism

Jasper Jolly
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Belt And Road Forum For International Cooperation - Day Two
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) was among the leaders addressed by Xi (right) (Source: Getty)

China’s President Xi Jinping has said his ambitious plan to build a new Silk Road-style trade route will be “open and inclusive” to all as he seeks to embed the nation at the heart of world trade.

Xi urged international organisations, including the EU and the African Union, to sign up to his “Belt and Road” agenda, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

The trade plan will “reject protectionism”, Xi said, in yet another pointed criticism of illiberal trade policies espoused by US President Donald Trump, Reuters reported.

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Speaking to 29 world leaders at a two-day summit in Beijing, Xi said: "The Belt and Road development does not shut out, nor is it directed against, any party.”

The Belt and Road plan would see billions of dollars of infrastructure funding in an effort to open more direct trade routes from China to nations around the world.

China’s challenge will now be to put the massive operation into practice, according to Danae Kyriakopoulou, chief economist at the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF).

She said: “China is already the world’s most important trade economy. The Belt and Road programme should entrench this role further but until now it has been mostly a catchy phrase to go along with talk about China’s global economic strategy.”

Despite the massive infrastructure investment promised in the growth strategy, widely used measures of the health of the Chinese economy may need to be re-examined as the transition towards a more services-oriented economy continues.

Kyriakopoulou added: “It is important to look beyond the headline news of a slowdown in industrial production data. China’s economy has come a long way from relying solely on industry for growth – it is still primarily a manufacturing- and export-focused economy, but this is changing.”

The Belt and Road summit came as official government data showed signs of a slowdown in growth in China’s giant industrial economy.

Growth in the output of industrial production fell by more than a percentage point in April to reach 6.5 per cent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China.

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China’s economy is undergoing a period of slowing headline growth as the economy matures and the potential for “catch-up” growth, driven by the uptake of better technologies used elsewhere, diminishes.

In March the Chinese government set its growth target for this year at around 6.5 per cent, the lowest in more than 20 years.

Since the election of Trump, Xi has aimed to portray China, a one-party communist state, as a champion of free trade at a time when the US has made signs of stepping back from its role as the dominant global economic power.

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