President Xi Jinping called for more countries to join China's sprawling infrastructure-building initiative as other leaders expressed support for a project Washington worries is increasing Beijing's strategic influence.

China's President Xi Jinping speaks at a press conference at the end of the final day of the Belt and Road Forum at the China National Convention Centere at the Yanqi Lake venue outside Beijing on April 27, 2019.
China's President Xi Jinping speaks at a press conference at the end of the final day of the Belt and Road Forum at the China National Convention Centere at the Yanqi Lake venue outside Beijing on April 27, 2019. (AFP)

President Xi Jinping on Saturday hailed deals worth more than $64 billion signed during China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) this week as he sought to reassure sceptics the project will deliver sustainable growth for all involved.

Xi said market principles will apply in all Belt and Road cooperation projects and that his signature initiative to recreate the old Silk Road joining China with Asia and Europe will deliver green and high-quality development.

"More and more friends and partners will join in Belt and Road cooperation," Xi said in his closing remarks. "The cooperation will enjoy higher quality and brighter prospects."

Data from Refinitiv shows the total value of projects in the scheme stands at $3.67 trillion, spanning countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, Oceania and South America.

Some partner nations have complained about the high cost of projects of BRI, which was launched in 2013, while some western governments view it as a means to spread Chinese influence abroad, saddling poor countries with unsustainable debt.

'Important opportunities'

A joint statement issued by leaders at the meeting expressed appreciation for the "important opportunities" created by Belt and Road and said it offers "potential for economic and social development."

Participants included the presidents of the Philippines, Kenya and Egypt, prime ministers of Italy, Greece and Pakistan and other officials from Indonesia, Germany and other countries.

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.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres talks to Chinese President Xi Jinping (not pictured) during the bilateral meeting of the Second Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People on April 26, 2019 in Beijing, China. Picture taken on April 26, 2019.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres talks to Chinese President Xi Jinping (not pictured) during the bilateral meeting of the Second Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People on April 26, 2019 in Beijing, China. Picture taken on April 26, 2019. (Reuters)

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 US 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.

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a news conference at the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing, China, on April 27, 2019.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks during a news conference at the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) in Beijing, China, on April 27, 2019. (Reuters)

'Green development'

Their joint statement emphasized the importance of "promoting green development" and "addressing the challenges of environmental protection and climate change."

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-leve l 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 announced Wednesday that Beijing had forgiven interest payments owed by the northeast African nation through the end of 2018.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies