China hosts Silk Road summit in shadow of North Korea missile




China touted on Sunday its new Silk Road as "a project of the century" at a summit highlighting its growing leadership on globalisation, but a North Korean missile test threatened to overshadow the event.

President Xi Jinping was preparing to host leaders from 29 nations for the two-day summit in Beijing when US and South Korean military officials confirmed that Pyongyang had launched a ballistic missile.

Delegations from North Korea and the United States were expected at the forum, though not their leaders. Few Western heads of government made the trip.

The summit is showcasing Xi's cherished One Belt, One Road initiative, a revival of the Silk Road that could cement China's growing global clout on trade and geopolitics.

"This is indeed a gathering of great minds," Xi said, addressing leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Xi pledged to pump an extra $124 billion in funds into the initiative, calling it "a project of the century" in a "world fraught with challenges".

The Chinese-bankrolled project seeks to link the country with Africa, Asia and Europe through an enormous network of ports, railways, roads and industrial parks.

The initiative spans some 65 countries representing 60 percent of the world population and around a third of global gross domestic product. The China Development Bank has earmarked $890 billion for some 900 projects.

The project is seen as a practical solution to relieve China's industrial overcapacity. But it could also serve Beijing's geopolitical ambitions as Washington retreats into "America First" policies.

While Xi did not mention North Korea during his speech to the delegates, the Chinese foreign ministry issued a statement saying it opposes such missile tests.

It urged all parties to "exercise restraint and refrain from further aggravating the tension in the region".

North Korea relies heavily on trade with China for its economic survival, and US President Donald Trump has urged Xi to use that leverage to put pressure on Pyongyang.

The White House called on all nations to impose "far stronger sanctions" following the latest test, which came days after South Korea elected a new president.

Sunday's missile launch "is absolutely an embarrassment to Beijing but it also shouldn't be overstated", Christopher Balding, economics professor at Peking University, told AFP.

"This will not overshadow (the summit) in an enormous way but it will absolutely continue to raise US frustrations with Beijing," he said, adding that Washington was "frustrated" that North Korea was also invited to the summit.

- Respecting sovereignty -

Xi focused on his initiative, boasting that it represented a "road for peace", but he cautioned "all countries should respect each others' sovereignty... and territorial integrity".

He warned that "isolation results in backwardness".

The new financing that he promised on Sunday includes 100 billion yuan ($14.5 billion) for the Silk Road Fund and lending schemes worth 380 billion yuan. He also urged financial institutions to contribute 100 billion yuan.

Praising Xi's initiative, Putin warned that "protectionism is becoming the norm".

"The ideas of openness, trade freedom are rejected more and more, very often by those who were their supporters not so long ago," Putin said.

For his part, Erdogan said Belt and Road was "going to be the kind of initiative that will put an end to terrorism".

- Indian concerns -

Some Belt and Road projects are raising concerns in certain countries.

India has voiced displeasure at the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a Belt and Road project aimed at linking northwestern China to the Arabian Sea.

The route cuts through Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, disputed territory that India claims is illegally occupied.

Human Rights Watch raised fears on Saturday about the treatment of people along the new Silk Road route in Central Asian nations with poor track records in infrastructure projects.

The US-based organisation said Chinese authorities have "heightened surveillance and repression to prevent potential unrest that could impede" Belt and Road plans in the western Xinjiang region.

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