China's Dream of Global Reach Meets Reality

(Bloomberg) --

Xi Jinping billed his Belt and Road Initiative as the “project of the century,” a vehicle for promoting Chinese influence abroad. Instead, it’s become a lightning rod for international unease.

Beijing has recognized that, with the Chinese president presenting a kinder, more humble version of the trade-and-infrastructure program to a forum this week featuring 37 leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad. At a similar event two years ago, he touted tens of billions of dollars in Chinese loans; this time he withheld the splashy pledges and vowed greater transparency and “zero tolerance” for graft.

For many, the 2017 event highlighted China’s ambitions to place itself at the center of a new world order, with the U.S. still reeling from Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House. Now, after seven countries scaled back or suspended BRI projects, Xi emphasized China’s role as a responsible stakeholder.

In fact, he spent much of his speech pledging to follow through on just the sort of reforms Trump had demanded to resolve their year-long trade war.

All this raises the key question of whether Xi's more modest presentation of the program represents a tactical retreat or an acknowledgment by Beijing that it's time for a more permanent reframing of its foreign policy.

China's Dream of Global Reach Meets Reality

Global Headlines

Bad faith | North Korean leader Kim Jong Un went to Russia looking for some help with his sputtering nuclear negotiations with Trump and found support from Putin. Kim accused the U.S. of “bad faith” in the nuclear talks, and Putin said he was willing to carry out Kim’s request to deliver his message to Washington.

Lagging behind | A picture of Democratic presidential candidates’ charitable giving patterns is beginning to emerge, and for the most part, they’re not as generous as the public at large. While Americans give between 2 percent and 4 percent of their incomes on average, most candidates claimed charitable deductions of less than 2 percent. It’s impossible to know how the Democrats compare to Trump, though, as he continues to shield his tax returns from release.

  • Click here for more on how former Vice President Joe Biden’s betting that Trump will help him win the Democratic nomination and the White House.

Populist power | The U.K.’s ruling Conservatives are facing what one Cabinet minister describes as an existential threat from a new Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage. The anti-European Union politician with the pint-swilling, man-of-the-people shtick tops the polls U.K. heading into European Parliament elections next month that will decide who gets the U.K.'s 73 seats in the chamber. But as Rob Hutton reports, instead of fighting back, the Tories are turning on each other as divisions over EU membership show no sign of healing.

Argentinian angst | A market selloff in Argentina is exacerbating economic woes and threatening President Mauricio Macri’s chances of re-election this year. Expectations that Argentina may once again default on its debt have risen after a poll showed that former president and populist Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner may narrowly beat Macri, who’s battling his second recession since taking power and inflation of more than 50 percent.

After the war | Billboards plastered with pictures of President Bashar al-Assad on the road to Damascus make clear who won the war in Syria. But as Donna Abu Nasr reports, instead of rebuilding, Syrians are trying to survive in a decimated economy that shows no signs of imminent revival, and Assad’s allies Iran and Russia are in no position to provide the more than $250 billion in aid the United Nations says Syria needs.

What to Watch

  • Trump is set to meet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House today, as the U.S. and Japan accelerate trade talks in Washington aimed at securing a speedy deal focused on agriculture and vehicles.
  • Spaniards go to the polls on Sunday with Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez set to win the most seats. The challenge for Sanchez will be whether he can piece together a majority from a divided parliament. Negotiations could be tortuous.
  • Emmanuel Macron promised tax cuts for France’s middle classes as he looked to show he’s in tune with the country’s concerns. The Yellow Vest protesters who’ve upended his presidency are due out again tomorrow in Paris in the first real test of his efforts.

And finally ... Take Your Sons and Daughters to Work Day prompted White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to hold her first news briefing since March 11. It was for children, and mostly off the record. Sanders fielded questions such as what kind of ice cream Trump likes (two scoops, one vanilla and one chocolate) and what he does for a living (“whatever he wants,” said Sanders’s son, who was at the podium with her). Trump, whose daughter and son-in-law work at the White House, has somewhat assumed the job of briefing the press, often taking impromptu questions from reporters.

China's Dream of Global Reach Meets Reality

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