China has denounced as “prejudiced” the critics of its massive global economic effort, called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is viewed by the US and a number of other Western governments as a means of spreading Chinese influence and pressuring countries with unsustainable debt burden.
The BRI plan, also known as the One Belt One Road project and championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, aims to link China by sea and land with southeast and central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa, through an infrastructure network on the lines of the ancient Silk Road.
Speaking to the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, Yang Jiechi, who runs the party’s foreign affairs committee, said he had noted that some in the international community believed this was a geopolitical tool and would only bring debt traps for participating countries.
“This obviously shows a lack of objectivity and fair understanding of the Belt and Road initiative. It is a misunderstanding, misjudgment and is even prejudiced,” said Yang, who is also a former foreign minister and ambassador to Washington.
Stressing that the BRI project was to promote “joint development,” he said, “The Belt and Road is open, inclusive and transparent. It does not play little geopolitical games. It does not engage in the exclusion of exclusive small circles.”
Yang went on to say that many countries, companies and ordinary people taking part in the plan had "publicly refuted rumors" about it being a debt trap.
Belt and Road projects, from their selection to their financing, go through careful risk assessments and the initiative's principles stress sustainable development, according to the Chinese official.
"For cooperative partners who have debt difficulties, China's principle is to appropriately resolve this through friendly consultations, and has never pushed or forced debt" on anyone, Yang said, adding that almost 40 foreign leaders would participate in the initiative, without naming any of them.
Some of China's closest allies have already confirmed they will partake, including Russia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Cambodia.
The remarks come after Washington denounced the infrastructure plan as a “vanity project” and warned Italy against supporting it.
“Italy is a major global economy and great investment destination. No need for Italian government to lend legitimacy to China’s infrastructure vanity project,” Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the White House’s group of national security advisers, said on Twitter.
Last year, US Vice President Mike Pence slammed China’s BRI, arguing that Chinese funding of the infrastructure project was burdening developing nations with debt. President Xi rejected US criticism of the project, saying it is not "a trap."
The US, which is currently engaged in a massive trade dispute with China, views the vast Asian country as a direct threat to its economic dominance and has expressed pessimism about the BRI.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has imposed steep tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese products.
Since taking office, Trump has claimed that China’s rise as an exporting powerhouse has hurt US workers and manufacturing.
Trump has imposed tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods and threatened to target all Chinese exports to the US. Beijing has responded by imposing tariffs on $110 billion in US products.
Other trade partners of the US, including the European Union, Canada and Mexico, have also retaliated with tit-for-tat tariffs against American products.