Leaders gather as China revamps Belt and Road project

World leaders and other senior political figures from 37 nations attend the Belt and Road Forum hosted by China in Beijing.

One Belt One Road China map
The second Belt and Road Forum began in Beijing on Thursday, attended by senior political figures from 37 nations hoping to benefit from China's £700 billion infrastructure initiative.President Xi Jinping met with Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, ahead of the three-day forum and reportedly received the organisation's backing for the project.Mr Xi is expected to promote a recalibrated version of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) at the summit, amid criticism that the project could fuel indebtedness among developing nations and lacked transparency.

Criticism fails to deter many world leaders

Turkey and India have declined to attend the meeting, but those attending include Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, all ten heads of state from the ASEAN bloc and UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond.According to a government spokesman in London, Mr Hammond will present the UK as a ‘natural partner’ for trade and investment with China at the gathering and will explore opportunities for UK design, engineering and finance firms in the BRI.

Huawei 5G UK project approved

His trip comes just two days after the UK's National Security Council (NSC) reportedly approved plans for the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei to be involved in the development of a new, 5G mobile network across Britain, despite security objections voiced by the US and Australia.Mr Hammond's trip also appeared to mark a warming of the UK's attitude towards the BRI's aim of creating a network of road, rail and sea links with the West after earlier coolness in London. Prime Minister Theresa May refused to sign a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the project when she visited China early last year, amid reports that Britain had concerns over China's political motives behind the scheme.Although Mrs May said the UK was ready to co-operate on BRI, primarily through the finance-raising capacities of the City of London, she insisted the project must, "meet international standards".

Government concerns lessen towards China

Now, however, the uncertainties of what will happen after Brexit and London's keenness to develop closer trade ties with China appear to have lessened the UK government's concerns. Mr Hammond, who will make a keynote address to the forum on Friday and will meet Chinese vice-premier Hu Chunhua, regards the summit as, "a key occasion to explore opportunities for UK business", a Treasury spokesman said."Global trade is essential for future prosperity, and engaging with BRI projects helps to support jobs, businesses, exports and investment back home in the UK," he said."The UK is a natural partner for quality global infrastructure initiatives due to the world-leading City of London, and unrivalled expertise in areas such as design, engineering, financing, public-private partnerships, and legal services."The UK's leadership on high standards and the sustainable development agenda will also be crucial in ensuring BRI projects develop in line with international standards on debt sustainability, environmental impact and climate change, social impact and transparency." 
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