Heads of state and government have endorsed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious plan to build a trade and infrastructure network across Eurasia.
In a joint statement the 30 leaders also pledged to build an open economy.
They also “opposed all forms of protectionism,” as well as fight climate change and promote social inclusion.
Xi pledged more than 100 billion dollars in investment, financing and aid for Belt and Road projects over an unspecified period of time.
“It is our hope that the Belt and Road cooperation will help boost economic growth of all participating countries, improve their infrastructure, invigorate their industrial development; it will also deepen financial cooperation and intensify people-to-people exchanges,” Xi said as he closed the forum, which was meant to garner international support for the initiative.
The leaders also agreed to promote trade and investment based on a “level-playing field, on market rules and on universally recognized international norms.”
The “least developed countries” would get special attention in order to “remove bottlenecks of development,” the document said.
The leaders also promised to protect the environment and uphold the international Paris Agreement on climate change.
They pledged to promote sustainable development and the protection of human rights, aiming for “a globalization that is open, inclusive and beneficial to all.”
Most of the statement’s signatories came from countries in Central and South-East Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa, as these states had sent high-ranking officials to the forum.
The signatories’ list included Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Phillipines President Rodrigo Duterte and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) chief, Anthony Lake praised the Belt and Road Initiative, calling it an “extraordinary strategic vision.”
He said the Belt and Road Initiative offers many practical opportunities to change people’s lives, and UNICEF would cooperate
Lake said while there is a focus on trade and infrastructure, he is also looking forward to the human development the initiative can deliver.
“It is human beings that make development happen, and it’s human beings that benefit from development,” Lake said.
The UNICEF chief said the healthy growth of children is among the great accomplishments the initiative can make.
Lake said work needs to be done on children’s health and reducing child mortality.
“The key priority for UNICEF is to reduce inequality, and he is looking forward to cooperating with the Chinese government on this issue. You have to focus education on the most disadvantaged children, so that when they grow up, they can compete in an even playing field with the children of the wealthy and better-off. Shifting educational resources and helping improve education of the poor is the best investment you can possibly make,” he said.
According to Lake, unlike China, children in some nations don’t have a childhood, so it is imperative for countries to work together and give these children a better chance to grow up.
“I wish while children in China are enjoying their own childhoods, remember out there in the world there are those who are not. If they can have a better life, that will not only be good for their countries, but for China as well.”
Most Western European countries had sent ministers or other lower-ranking officials to the forum, in a sign of hesitation about China’s initiative, which they had criticized for its lack of transparency and formal structure.
Western leaders were involved, however, in drafting a second document, on trade, which got bogged down in disagreements over the statement’s content.
“The demands of the EU countries in areas such as free trade, setting a level playing field and equal conditions have not been met,” Brigitte Zypries, Germany’s economy minister, said, adding that EU countries would not sign the trade document unless these conditions were met.
The initiative also faced backlash from India, who boycotted the forum because part of a planned China-Pakistan corridor expected to run through the disputed Kashmir region.
And in Pakistan earlier last week, officials said gunmen killed workers at a Belt and Road-related project, highlighting the initiative’s risks in unstable countries.
China’s neighbour North Korea also showed defiance to Beijing by launching a ballistic missile on Sunday, as the Belt and Road Forum started, despite Beijing’s repeated requests that Pyongyang suspend its nuclear and missile programme.
On financing, China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China extended $110 billion in loans for Belt and Road projects by the end of 2016, and China has signed currency swap deals with countries involved in the plan totaling 900 billion yuan.
This initiative is expected to chart a new course for economic development, amidst a slow global economic recovery and a rebound in commodity prices, particularly oil.