May 12, 2017 / 9:51 AM / 3 months ago

Chinese media told not to mention Belt and Road investments by country

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn attend a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 12, 2017.Thomas Peter

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese official told local reporters on Friday to focus on the inclusiveness of China's Belt and Road initiative and refrain from reporting the amount of Chinese investment in specific countries along the route.

Leaders from 29 nations will gather in Beijing this weekend for China's ambitious new Silk Road initiative that aims to develop economic links between Asia, Africa and Europe. Chinese investment could reach up to $130 billion (£101.1 billion) annually over the next five years.

A provincial official told a group of Chinese reporters after a press briefing that they should not report on China's investment in countries along the Belt and Road routes, an instruction that is different from past practices, due to the sensitivity of the matter.

"You reporters should focus on the theme of developing together, not what we (China) do with certain countries, because that could make other countries uncomfortable," said the official from the eastern province of Fujian.

China has long used references to countries along the Belt and Road routes in its official communiques about the initiative.

Chinese media coverage of the two-day Belt and Road Forum, due to kick off on Sunday, has been relentlessly upbeat. China has also rejected suggestions that the new Silk Road is about Beijing trying to dominate the world and mould it to its liking, saying it is good for all and anyone can join.

Keeping the rhetoric on an initiative that is open to all nations, some officials at the Fujian press conference denied that there were just 65 countries under the Belt and Road initiative, saying there was no such specific number.

"What I can tell you is that we have repeatedly said the Belt and Road is an open and inclusive proposal," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Friday.

"The Belt and Road does not have this concept of members. Anyone can join it."

Even countries not situated on the Silk Road - old or new - have been welcome to join the initiative. The leaders of Chile and Argentina will be attending the summit, as well as representatives from the United States.

President Xi Jinping first proposed the Belt and Road initiative in 2013. Since then, he has used it to help portray China as an open economy, distinct from a rising wave of global protectionism.

The Belt and Road initiative should not just be a "China solution" for the world, a Chinese think tank said on Wednesday.

"Belt and Road when it first started was a China solution. Afterwards it became that all solutions from any country are fine," said Wang Huiyao, head of the Centre for China and Globalization.

"Developed countries can also make suggestions - any country can create a solution for Belt and Road."

Reporting by Yawen Chen and Christian Shepherd; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie

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