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China's Xi outlines plans for wide cooperation in trade plan

Trump-Xi meeting

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed ambitious hopes Monday for Asian and European governments to work closely on finance, law enforcement and a broad range of other issues under a Beijing-led trade initiative as leaders of 30 countries ended a meeting to promote the effort.

The "Belt and Road" project is China's biggest foreign initiative to date as Beijing looks for global stature to match its economic success. It calls for expanding trade across Asia, Africa and Europe by investing in ports, railways and other facilities, but governments including Russia, Washington and India are uneasy Beijing also is using it to gain political influence.

Xi said the project has "no political agenda." But he also expressed hope governments that participate will coordinate policy in areas from finance and law enforcement to technology and education.

"It is our hope that through the 'Belt and Road' development, we will unleash new forces for global economic growth," Xi said at a brief news conference at a conference center in the hills north of the Chinese capital.

The two-day meeting included Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and presidents or prime ministers from Italy, Hungary and Greece, as well as most of China's Asian neighbors, but no major Western leaders.

The future of U.S. trade policy with China

Britain, France and Germany were represented by finance or trade officials. The U.S. delegation was led by the Asia director of President Donald Trump's National Security Council.

Xi acknowledged the initiative is in its early stages and faces daunting obstacles.

"One single feather does not make a bird fly high," he said.

The Chinese leader's declaration of plans to pursue cooperation in areas well beyond trade could increase potential obstacles.

Chinese officials insist the initiative is purely commercial, but foreign diplomats and political analysts also see an effort by the Communist Beijing government to promote its ambitions of rewriting global rules on trade and security and to reduce the U.S. presence in Asia.

Diplomats have expressed concern Beijing is promoting a vision of trading networks centered on "great powers" such as China, which would erode the rules-based system under the World Trade Organization in which all competitors are treated equally.

Trump's plan to focus on domestic issues and downplay foreign affairs has given Beijing an opening to try to play a bigger leadership role in trade, climate and other global issues.

China is the biggest trading partner for all of its Asian neighbors and a growing investor. But other Asian governments are uneasy about Beijing's strategic ambitions, especially after it built artificial islands and military bases in the South China Sea to enforce its claim to most of the region.

Trump's decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed regional trade pact, has left Asian governments that want to use ties with Washington to offset China's growing dominance off balance.

Xi said Beijing wants "Belt and Road" to improve cooperation in making industrial and financial policy, speed up development of infrastructure, make trade and investment flow more easily and improve interaction on education and other "people-to-people ties."

Trump's conflicts of interest with China

Other governments welcome Chinese investment in a region that the Asian Development Bank says needs to spend $7 trillion this decade on ports, railways and other trade-related facilities to keep economies growing. But governments have expressed concern Beijing might use "Belt and Road" to promote Chinese exports by encouraging its neighbors to adopt China's industrial standards for railways and other goods.

Xi tried to mollify concern about a potential Chinese-dominated trade bloc by saying "Belt and Road" is meant to be an "open and inclusive platform for development."

Earlier Monday, the Chinese leader appealed in a speech to the visiting foreign leaders to pursue "greater openness and cooperation" and to "reject protectionism."

China has promoted itself as a global champion of free trade in response to pressure in the United States and Europe for restrictions on imports, despite complaints by Beijing's trading partners that China is the most-closed major economy.

Also Monday, the Philippine defense minister, who attended the Beijing meeting, said he signed a letter of intent with a Chinese military contractor to purchase weapons for Manila's army, navy and air force.

The minister, Delfin Lorenzana, said the Chinese government was offering a loan "at the tune of about $500 million" to finance the purchases. Lorenzana said no decisions had been made about what arms might be bought or how much.