China Says It Will Be ‘Objective' on Belt and Road Criticism

(Bloomberg) -- China should be “objective and rational” in response to international criticism of its massive regional infrastructure plan, a senior official said.

The nation’s Belt and Road Initiative, a plan that aims to invest in infrastructure linking China with Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe, is facing challenges, Ning Jizhe, deputy chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, said at a press conference in Beijing.

China Says It Will Be ‘Objective' on Belt and Road Criticism

Some countries question the initiative and Chinese enterprises’ investment and operations overseas have encountered some difficulties, he said.

“We should take an objective, rational view on the achievements and troubles” and improve the mechanism for international cooperation, he said.

China has partnered with 103 countries and international organizations since President Xi Jinping proposed the initiative in 2013, according to Ning. At the same time, Beijing has faced claims that the program is a covert attempt to extend its influence overseas, and criticism that non-transparent financing arrangements are loading up partner countries with debt that they can’t repay.

The highest-profile setback to date has been Malaysia’s suspension of the $20 billion East Coast Rail Link project. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that while he recognized the initiative as positive in the long-run, his nation has borrowed money from China it could not repay and used it on unnecessary infrastructure.

"There is no correlation between some nations’ rising debts and the Belt and Road Initiative," Ning said at Monday’s press conference. Some nations’ debts have built up over decades and some borrowed mainly from other nations, but not China, he said. "China is a latecomer. And it is not the biggest debt holder."

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Yinan Zhao in Beijing at yzhao300@bloomberg.net;Miao Han in Beijing at mhan22@bloomberg.net

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With assistance from Editorial Board