(Repeats Monday's story with no changes to text)
By Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd
BEIJING May 15 India didn't show up. North
Korea did, to the annoyance of the United States. And Pyongyang
threatened to steal the show by firing a ballistic missile that
landed less than 100 km from Russia.
Despite the distractions, China stuck to the script at the
first major summit dedicated to its new "Silk Road" initiative
to open land and sea corridors across Asia and beyond, pushing
President Xi Jinping's free trade message hard.
The huge "Belt and Road" project, unveiled in 2013 and
championed by Xi, is as amorphous as it is ambitious, and the
May 14-15 forum attended by 29 leaders and other top officials
from around the world was designed to overcome the doubters.
It succeeded partially, but Xi's prominence at the Beijing
meeting, and state media's ringing endorsement of a concept that
jars strikingly with U.S. President Donald Trump's "America
First" policy, pointed to how seriously China took it.
In closing remarks, made before journalists who were not
permitted to ask questions, Xi vowed to host another Belt and
Road forum in 2019.
"There is still a long way to go as the Belt and Road is a
long term undertaking," he said. "It is important for all
parties to work more closely together if we are to make the
blueprint a reality and keep delivering tangible results."
In the buildup to the country's biggest diplomatic event of
the year, authorities were sensitive to criticism that the Silk
Road mostly benefited Chinese companies and risked creating
unmanageable levels of debt in host countries.
Official media featured smiling foreigners saying how much
Belt and Road had changed their lives, and addressed the
reservations of some Western nations head-on.
On the night before the summit opened, the official Xinhua
news agency, in an English language commentary, denounced the
"naysayers (who) circle like buzzards".
"Pessimism sells more newspapers and draws more clicks than
stories of success," it said.
The host nation pulled out the stops to ensure the summit
It closed some bars and restaurants in central Beijing on
the pretext of ensuring security, and unblocked foreign websites
like Google at meeting venues, inaccessible to ordinary Chinese.
When male reporters turned up to the summit on Sunday, those
not wearing a suit were asked to form a separate line before
being handed second-hand jackets to make them more presentable.
INCLUSION AND IRRITATION
At the gathering, China pledged $124 billion in funding for
the Belt and Road.
In the closing communique, it also hinted at its ambition to
take on a global leadership role at a time when protectionist
forces were gathering steam in other regions.
"It is our hope through the Belt and Road development, we
will unleash new economic forces for global growth, build new
platforms for global development, and rebalance economic
globalisation so mankind will move closer to a community of
common destiny," Xi said at the close of the event.
Long-running diplomatic disputes did manage to muscle in on
the narrative of inclusion for all, however.
India, whose population is expected to surpass that of China
in the coming years, pointedly avoided the summit, complaining
that a Silk Road project that crosses Pakistan impinges on its
sovereignty by passing through the disputed region of Kashmir.
And when China confirmed North Korea was attending, the U.S.
embassy in Beijing submitted a complaint to China's foreign
ministry saying its presence sent the wrong message as the world
tried to pressure Pyongyang over its weapons programme.
North Korea's response may have irked its hosts, however. On
Sunday it fired a ballistic missile in defiance of international
calls to curb its weapons programme.
Amid Chinese proclamations that all were welcome to join the
Belt and Road initiative, one leader enjoyed a place of honour.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke right after Xi's keynote
speech on Sunday and sat next to him at Monday's leaders' event.
The closing communique and a separate list of 270 concrete
results from the summit covered everything from vague references
to human rights and democracy - not subjects China gets much
praise for internationally - to an oceanic observation station
with Cambodia and free trade deal with Georgia.
Palestinian delegate Adnan Samara told Reuters that for him
the Belt and Road meant not only economic solutions for his
homeland, but political ones too.
"We need the interference of China - we need justice, we
need peace. I believe China can play a big role in this," he
said. "China is powerful, they are growing. They can interfere
in many problems. They know our problem."
While some projects under the Belt and Road banner are
clearly defined, others remain vague, and although investment in
infrastructure across Asia is vast, calculating the precise
value of the initiative is difficult.
"After this speech, I think the vision is much clearer now,"
Poland's Radek Pyffel, an Alternate Director of the China-backed
Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, told Reuters, referring to
Xi's opening speech.
"But maybe we will see some other definition of the Silk
Road in the future. It's still very general, it's the umbrella
for many other projects and initiatives."
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina, Thomas Peter, Sue-Lin
Wong and Elias Glenn; Editing by Mike Collett-White)