Daily Archives: April 27, 2019

Xi: China Wants to Expand Sprawling Belt and Road Project

BEIJING President Xi Jinping called Saturday for more countries to join China’s sprawling infrastructure-building initiative in the face of U.S. opposition to a project Washington worries is increasing Beijing’s strategic influence.

Xi spoke at a gathering of leaders to celebrate the multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, his signature foreign project. The upbeat tone of the two-day forum, at which Russian President Vladimir Putin and other leaders praised the initiative, is a setback for the Trump administration, which is trying to discourage other countries from participating.

Xi promised Friday to promote high financial, environmental and other standards in response to complaints about debt and other problems. That has the potential to heighten tensions with Washington by attracting more participants.

We need to encourage the full participation of more countries and companies, the Chinese president said at the event at a government conference center outside Beijing.

Xi tried to dispel complaints Belt and Road does little for developing countries that have borrowed from Beijing to build ports, railways and other facilities. Xi said his government wants to deliver benefits to all.

Other governments welcomed the initiative launched in 2013 to increase trade by building ports, railways and other infrastructure across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. But some are struggling to repay Chinese loans, which has fueled complaints about a possible debt trap.

Critics also complain too much of the work goes to Chinese state-owned companies and the initiative might lead to corruption and environmental damage.

The United States, Russia, Japan and India worry Beijing is eroding their influence. American officials have warned other governments about potential debt problems and China’s possible political motives.

Xi’s government is trying to revive momentum for Belt and Road after the number of new projects slumped last year. That followed official announcements that Chinese lenders would examine borrowers more closely and concerns by some governments about Beijing’s rising influence.

On Friday, Xi promised to embrace international financial, environmental and other standards. He pledged to work more closely with multinational entities and to open projects dominated by Chinese state-owned companies wider to private and foreign contractors.

Despite U.S. opposition, the Chinese government says the number of countries have signed agreements to support the initiative has risen to 115 from 65.

Beijing scored a diplomatic coup in March when Italy, a member of the Group of Seven major economies, signed an agreement to support Belt and Road.

On Friday, Putin said Belt and Road fits with Moscow’s initiative to develop a common market with four of its neighbors.

The Chinese leader repeated his promise to adopt widely accepted rules and standards and encourage Belt and Road countries to follow global standards for project development, purchasing and operations.

We welcome the participation of multilateral and international financial institutions in Belt and Road investment and financing, and we encourage third market cooperation, said Xi. With involvement of multiple stake holders we can surely deliver benefits to all.

Xi’s promises on debt, transparency and anti-corruption will be well received by some BRI countries and outside observers, Kelsey Broderick of Eurasia Group in a report. Others including the European Union will wait to see actual implementation.

Chinese lenders have provided $440 billion in financing for Belt and Road projects, the country’s central bank governor, Yi Gang, said Thursday.

Beijing is ordering Chinese state-owned companies to pay more attention to local economic development, benefits for local residents and environmental protection, the chairman of the Cabinet agency that oversees national-level government industries said Thursday, according to a transcript on the agency website.

Xi’s government also has tried to defuse tensions with Belt and Road participants by renegotiating debts or offering other concessions.

Ethiopia’s government announced Wednesday that Beijing had forgiven interest payments owed by the northeast African nation through the end of 2018.

Source: Voice of America

Sudanese Protesters, Military Say Talks ‘Fruitful’

Organizers of the protests that drove Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir from power and the ruling military council said talks Saturday on forming a transitional government were transparent and fruitful.

Both sides announced they would set up a joint committee comprised of members of both the military council and the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition of opposition groups led by the Sudanese Professionals Association, to tackle political disputes.

Saturday’s meeting came after the protesters agreed Wednesday to resume talks with the military after a temporary break. The military also announced then the resignation of three members of the military council, whom the opposition had accused of being too close to al-Bashir.

But the Sudanese Communist Party, which is part of the protest movement, called late Friday for a fourth member of the council, deputy head Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo � commonly known by his nickname Hemedti � to step down.

Hemedti is commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, which have been accused of genocide in the Darfur region.

The protesters fear the army, dominated by al-Bashir appointees, will cling to power or select one of its own to succeed him. They also fear Islamists and other factions close to the deposed leader, who is now jailed in the capital, Khartoum, will be granted a role in the transition.

Shams al-Deen al-Kabashi, the spokesman for the military council, said the talks were transparent and that both sides agreed on resuming their meeting later Saturday.

We are very optimistic that we will reach a final conclusion that will be announced to the Sudanese people as soon as possible, he told a brief press conference.

A member of the protesters’ team said the talks were fruitful and that they have discussed all disputed points.

The discussion was positive and fruitful, activist Madani Abbas Madani said.

The Sudanese Professionals Association, which spearheaded four months of escalating demonstrations that led the military to remove al-Bashir from power April 11, is demanding a civilian government. They have proposed that a sovereign council, which would include limited army representation, hand over full powers to civilians during a four-year transitional period.

Army leaders have called for a two-year transition during which the generals would retain sovereign power and give only executive authorities to civilians.

The military has agreed to recognize the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, a coalition of opposition groups led by the SPA, as the uprising’s only legitimate representative, in a move widely seen as a victory for the protesters.

The council has met with a wide range of political parties about the transition, including those formerly close to al-Bashir. Al-Kabashi, the spokesman for the council, said late Friday that it had completed a review of proposals. He did not elaborate.

The opposition has meanwhile vowed to continue protests, centered on a sit-in outside the military headquarters in Khartoum.

Former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the opposition Umma party said the protesters will not break up the sit-in until there is a full transfer of power to civilians.

The SPA says around 100 people have been killed by security forces since December, when a failing economy and a spike in prices sparked the first protests.

Source: Voice of America