India skips China’s One Belt One Road summit, warns of “unsustainable” debt

Irshad Salim — India refused to send an official delegation to attend the “Belt and Road Forum” in Beijing and instead criticized China’s global initiative, warning of an “unsustainable debt burden” for countries involved.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is hosting dozens of world leaders, ministers and senior officials (see list of attendees below) on Sunday for the country’s biggest diplomatic showcase of the year, touting his vision of a new “Silk Road” that opens trade routes across the globe — Chinese Think Tanks call the initiative as geoeconomics not geopolitics — involving 65 nations — 60% of the world’s population and 30% of world GDP (pdf), the OBOR aims to achieve trade and commerce connectivity, according to the Hong Kong–based think tank Fung Business Intelligence.

Government officials from New Delhi did not travel, Indian officials told Reuters, although scholars from Indian think-tanks have flown to Beijing to attend some of the meetings at the forum. China’s ambassador last week addressed Indian scholars in Delhi to explain the initiative vis-a-vis its close relationship with Pakistan and its goal to include India in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor if Pakistan agrees.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Gopal Baglay, asked whether New Delhi was participating in the summit, said India could not accept a project that compromised its sovereignty.

India is incensed that the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor ─ one of the key Belt and Road projects ─ passes through Pakistan-administered Kashmir. PM Nawaz Sharif is attending the summit.

“No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Baglay said.

He also warned of the danger of debt. One of the criticisms of the Silk Road plan is that host countries may struggle to pay back loans for huge infrastructure projects being carried by Chinese state companies and funded by Chinese banks.

“Connectivity initiatives must follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create unsustainable debt burden for communities,” Baglay said.

New Delhi’s criticism of the Belt and Road initiative came as Xi pledged $124 billion to the plan, and called for the abandonment of old models based on rivalry and diplomatic power games.

Leaders from 29 countries and ministerial delegates from many more are attending the forum in Beijing, including India’s smaller neighbors ─ not just Pakistan, but also Sri Lanka and Nepal. The World Bank President, heads of the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund are also attending.

Baglay said India supported greater connectivity across the region and listed the initiatives it was involved in, including highway projects and the North-South corridor in Central Asia, but he said these had to be developed in a transparent manner.

“We are of firm belief that connectivity initiatives must be based on universally recognized international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality,” he said in a statement.

As well as the corridor through Pakistan, India is worried more broadly about China’s economic and diplomatic expansion through Asia, and in particular across countries and waterways that it considers to be its sphere of influence.

Some Western diplomats, according to Reuters, have expressed unease about both the summit and the plan as a whole, seeing it as an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally. They are also concerned about transparency and access for foreign firms to the scheme.

Britain’s finance minister told the summit his country was a “natural partner” in the new Silk Road.

White House adviser Matt Pottinger said the United States welcomed efforts by China to promote infrastructure connectivity as part of its OBOR initiative, and U.S. companies could offer top value services.

China’s Commerce Minister Zhong Shan said the country has plans to import $2 trillion of products from countries participating in its OBOR initiative over the next five years,

Germany, which was not among the countries that approved the financing guidelines for OBOR, said its firms were willing to support the initiative, but more transparency was needed.

Some of China’s close allies and partners were at the forum, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

There were also several European leaders attending, including the prime ministers of Spain, Italy, Greece and Hungary.

Below, is a list of confirmed attendees at China’s Belt and Road Forum, to be held in Beijing May 14-15, according to The Diplomat.

Afghanistan: Unspecified minister-level delegation
Argentina: President Mauricio Macri
Australia: Trade Minister Steve Ciobo
Azerbaijan: Economy Minister Shahin Mustafayev
Bangladesh: Unspecified minister-level delegation
Belarus: President Alexander Lukashenko
Brazil: Secretary for Strategic Affairs Hussein Ali Kalout
Cambodia: Prime Minister Hun Sen
Chile: President Michelle Bachelet
China: President Xi Jinping
Czech Republic: President Milos Zeman
Egypt: Trade and Industry Minister Tarek Kabil
Ethiopia: Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn
Fiji: Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama
Finland: Minister of Transport and Communications of Finland Anne Berner
France: Jean-Pierre Raffarin, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Defense and Armed Forces in the French Senate
Germany: Minister of Economic Affairs Brigitte Zypries
Greece: Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
Hungary: Prime Minister Viktor Orban
Indonesia: President Joko Widodo
Iran: Minister of Economy and Finance Ali Tayebnia
Italy: Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni
Japan: LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai
Kazakhstan: President Nursultan Nazarbayev
Kenya: President Uhuru Kenyatta
Kyrgyzstan: President Almazbek Atambayev
Kuwait: Minister of the Amiri Diwan Affairs Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber
Laos: President Bounnhang Vorachith
Malaysia: Prime Minister Najib Razak
Maldives: Economic Minister Mohamed Saeed
Mongolia: Prime Minister Jargaltulga Erdenebat
Myanmar: State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi
Romania: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Environment Gratiela Gavrilescu
Nepal: Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara
New Zealand: Science and Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith
North Korea: Confirmed to be sending an official delegation; the delegation will be led by Kim Yong-jae, the North Korean minister of external economic relations, according to a number of South Korean media reports
Pakistan: Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif
Philippines: President Rodrigo Duterte
Poland: Prime Minister Beata Szydło
Russia: President Vladimir Putin
Saudi Arabia: Minister of Energy, Industry, and Mineral Resources Khalid Al-Falih
Serbia: Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic
Singapore: Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong
South Korea: Ambassador to China Kim Jang-soo; Park Byeong-seug, National Assembly member for the Democratic Party
Spain: Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
Sri Lanka: Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe
Switzerland: President Doris Leuthard
Syria: unspecificed minister-level delegation
Thailand: five ministers: Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Transportation Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, Minister of Commerce Apiradi Tantraporn, Minister of Digital for Economy and Society Pichet Durongkaveroj, and Minister of Science and Technology Atchaka Sibunruang
Tunisia: Culture Minister Mohamed Zine El-Abidine
Turkey: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
UAE: Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Minister of State and Group CEO of ADNOC
Ukraine: unspecified official delegation
United Kingdom: Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond
United States: Matt Pottinger, National Security Council senior director for Asia
Uzbekistan: President Shavkat Mirziyoyev
Vietnam: President Tran Dai Quang

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