On Sunday, China began laying out its grand vision to the world for reviving the ancient Silk Road, attempting to issue in a new era where camel caravans have been replaced by cargo trains and treasure galleons replaced by freighters laden with socks and gadgets, all emanating from the Middle Kingdom.
In a 45-minute address opening the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a glossy overview of the historically-inspired “One Belt, One Road” initiative he launched back in 2013 to expand trade links between Asia, Europe, Africa and beyond. In his speech, Xi called the initiative the “project of the century” which promises to usher forth a new “golden age” of globalization.
“The glory of the ancient silk routes shows that geographical distance is not insurmountable. If we take the first courageous step towards each other, we can embark on a path leading to friendship, shared development, peace, harmony and a better future,” Xi proclaimed.
In this ambitious trillion-dollar effort spanning countries and continents, Xi vowed during his speech that China would provide $125 billion of funding, $9 billion of which will go as aid to developing countries that join the global scheme.
Beginning on Saturday, leaders from dozens of countries around the globe descended upon Beijing for the giant infrastructure summit, including representatives from both North Korea and South Korea. Over 20 heads of state were attendance, including Turkish President Recep Erdoğan and Russian President Vladimir Putin — who managed to steal the show with an impromptu piano performance inside the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.
The summit, spanning both Sunday and Monday, is aimed at familiarizing the rest of the world with China’s latest bold initiative. In the lead-up to the forum, Chinese state media unleashed a coordinated propaganda campaign that featured an American dad repurposing the OBOR as a bedtime story for his 5-year-old daughter, as well as ethnically diverse children singing together about the benefits of cooperation and globalization.
China’s new Silk Road promises to outdo the ancient one in size and scope with membership not limited to just Asia and Europe. However, notably absent at the event was the United States, along with India. While the US has remained mostly silent about China’s plans for global infrastructure and trade domination, India has emerged as the chief critic of the initiative.
In a statement released on Saturday, India called China’s OBOR effort “little more than a colonial enterprise [that would leave] debt and broken communities in its wake,” cautioning China against starting a project that could lead to “unsustainable debt burden for communities,” as well as serious damage to the environment while infringing on nations’ sovereignty.
During his speech, Xi dismissed the detractors, saying that while the initiative’s roots may be ancient, it’s offering something entirely new to the world. “In advancing the Belt and Road, we will not re-tread the old path of games between foes. Instead we will create a new model of co-operation and mutual benefit,” the Chinese president vowed as applause rang out inside the hall.
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