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President Xi blasts 'bloc confrontation' as BRI forum begins in China

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road Initiative to mark the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, October 18, 2023. (Photo by Reuters)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has opened a forum of international delegates to the Belt and Road forum in Beijing, rejecting "economic coercion" and "bloc confrontation" in a dig at the West. 

Beijing this week hosts representatives of 140 countries for a forum on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Xi's vast trade and infrastructure project.

"We oppose unilateral sanctions, economic coercion, decoupling, and delinking," Xi told the 20 heads of state and more than 1,000 delegates gathered in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Wednesday. European leaders were largely the forum’s absentees.

At the top of the guest list is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who began holding talks with Xi on the sidelines of the forum, with the war raging between Israel and Hamas looming large.

Putin is on his first trip to a major global power since the Ukraine war began. 

And with the multilateral summit overshadowed by the Israel-Hamas war, Xi opened the forum with a speech promising Beijing would not engage in "ideological confrontation, geopolitical games or bloc confrontation".

"Viewing the development of others as a threat and economic interdependence as a risk will not make one's own life any better or one's own development any faster," Xi said.

Xi lauded his grand plan launched 10 years ago of building global infrastructure and energy networks connecting Asia with Africa and Europe through overland and maritime routes.

"The BRI aims to enhance policy, infrastructure, trade, financial and people-to-people connectivity," he said.

"China is willing to deepen cooperation with Belt and Road partners... and work unremittingly to realize the modernization of every country in the world."

"Jointly building the Belt and Road originated in China, but its achievements and opportunities belong to the world," he said.

The Russian president then took to the stage, saying the BRI initiative was an unexpected "success story".

"Given the global dimensions of the initiative the Chinese leader launched a decade ago, frankly, one can hardly expect to make it work," Putin said in his address to delegates.

On the sidelines of the forum, Xi told Putin during a bilateral meeting that political mutual trust" between Beijing and Moscow has "continued to deepen".

Xi also called for joint efforts by China and Russia to "safeguard international fairness" and "justice", state news agency Xinhua said, hailing "close and effective strategic coordination" between their two countries.

Several other foreign leaders, including Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, and Argentine President, Alberto Fernandez, are also attending the BRI, Chinese state media reported.

However, the attendance of Putin at the BRI, despite the fact that Russia has not officially signed up for the initiative, underscored the close relationship between the two countries.

The BRI, since its inception in 2013, has become the core of China’s economic diplomacy, exerting a deep influence on international economic and political relations for the rest of the world and more specifically for the EU, as the latter is the ultimate destination of the vast network of land routes and sea-lanes starting from various Chinese provinces.

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