Russian President Vladimir Putin touted his country’s deep alignment with China on Wednesday as he appeared on stage as a guest of honor at a global gathering in Beijing, where Chinese leader Xi Jinping presented his vision of a reshaped world order.
In an unprecedented speech delivered at the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road Forum, Putin hailed Xi’s flagship foreign policy initiative as “aimed at forming a more just and multipolar world.”
Russia and China share an “aspiration for equal and mutually beneficial cooperation”, which includes “respect for the diversity of civilizations and the right of each State to its own development model” – he added, in an apparent opposition to calls for authoritarian leaders to promote humanity. political rights and freedoms in the country.
Putin spoke after Xi, who welcomed two dozen world leaders and more than a hundred delegations to an event marking the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative – an ambitious but controversial undertaking aimed at boosting connectivity and trade across the world with Chinese infrastructure projects.
Xi praised his initiative to provide an alternative development model for the world, saying it “established a new framework for international cooperation.”
The gathering in Beijing’s massive Great Hall of the People took place in the shadow of a war in the Middle East that threatens to escalate into a wider regional conflict – and served as a stark demonstration of the growing divisions between world powers.
As leaders and representatives from the South gather in the Chinese capital, US President Joe Biden is expected to arrive in Israel later Wednesday to show his unwavering support for his ally, which has pledged to eliminate Hamas following the attack of Islamist militants. the group’s brutal attack on Israel earlier this month.
China and Russia have both called for a ceasefire in the spiraling conflict and refused to explicitly condemn Hamas – in stark contrast to the outpouring of support for Israel from the United States and leaders of all of Europe.
Without directly addressing the conflict, Xi hinted at an apparent shift in global power and leadership in his speech on Wednesday. “Changes in the world, in our times and of historical significance are occurring like never before,” he said.
“China is striving to become a stronger country and rejuvenate the Chinese nation on all fronts by continuing its modernization. The modernization we are pursuing is not just for China, but for all developing countries through joint efforts.”
In a thinly veiled attack on the United States, the Chinese leader said China opposed unilateral sanctions, economic coercion and the decoupling of supply chains.
“Ideological confrontation, geopolitical rivalry and bloc politics are not a choice for us,” he said.
“Considering the development of others as a threat or taking economic interdependence as a risk will not improve one’s life or accelerate one’s development. »
Other world leaders in attendance, including Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev and Indonesia’s Joko Widodo, also gave speeches, many of them echoing Xi’s call for increased global development and of a more multilateral and cooperative world.
Xi, China’s most powerful and assertive leader in decades, has stepped up efforts to present China as an alternative leader to the United States – with a vision for how global security and development should be ensured.
Welcoming leaders to Beijing – China’s first major international event since the end of the Covid-19 pandemic – is a key part of its drive to present this vision to countries with which it has forged close ties over the last decade, as Xi sought to significantly expand his mandate. the nation’s global influence.
World leaders, representatives and delegations from more than 140 countries – including those from the Middle East and the Taliban – are participating in the gathering marking the tenth anniversary of the launch of Xi’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative.
But it also comes as China faces serious domestic challenges, with a slowing economy, high unemployment and a series of recent unexplained upheavals in the upper echelons of the ruling Communist Party.
Beijing aims to gloss over these challenges at this meeting to project its power and hail its contributions to global development as a prime example of its superior leadership.
This flagship foreign policy leveraged hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese financing to build ports, power plants, bridges, railways and roads around the world, greatly increasing China’s international interests and influence. China.
More than 150 countries cooperated in the program, which Beijing says has mobilized “up to a trillion dollars in investment,” boosting growth in developing countries.
But it faces growing headwinds as China’s engine of economic growth slows amid a changing global financial climate and questions about the high costs it poses for countries – from debt to environmental impact.
China’s infrastructure-building spree now makes it the world’s biggest debt collector, analysts say.
In his speech on Wednesday, Xi brushed aside criticism and reiterated his commitment to the initiative.
“What has been achieved over the past ten years demonstrates that Belt and Road cooperation is on the right side of history. This represents the advancement of our times and is the right way forward,” he said.
Xi also proposed an eight-part action plan on the Belt and Road Initiative, including the complete removal of restrictions on foreign investment in China’s manufacturing sector and an initiative on global intelligence governance artificial.