China Holds Smaller Belt and Road Summit as Europe Avoids It, but the Taliban Attends

Alex Wu
By Alex Wu
October 19, 2023China News
China Holds Smaller Belt and Road Summit as Europe Avoids It, but the Taliban Attends
(Front row, L-R) Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev pose for a group photo with other leaders at the Third Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on Oct. 18, 2023. (Suo Takekuma-Pool/Getty Images)

China held the third Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Summit in Beijing on Oct. 17–18.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Beijing’s launch of this grand foreign policy project to expand its political influence around the world through huge investments in infrastructures in other countries. However, the scale of the summit has significantly shrunk, along with the decrease of China’s investment in the BRI.

Over the past 10 years, the BRI has been widely criticized for corruption, setting debt traps for participating countries, labor exploitation, and creating economic dependence of those countries on China.

In May 2017, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held the first BRI Summit in an attempt to reduce the international community’s doubts over it. The second summit was held in April 2019. The third forum was postponed to October 2023 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Comparing to the last summit, which 37 foreign leaders participated, only 24 attended this year. Most of them were from developing countries in Southeast and South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

Notably fewer European leaders has participated in this year’s BRI summit. According to public data, one third of the world’s leaders that attended the first summit were from Europe. This year only a few East European countries’ leaders attended, such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vuci. Many European heads of states who participated in the last one skipped this year’s summit, including the president of Portugal, the prime minister of Austria, the prime minister of Greece, the president of the Swiss Confederation, the president of the Czech Republic, and the president of Belarus.

Xi And Putin
Chinese leader Xi Jinping (L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the opening ceremony of the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, on Oct. 18, 2023. (Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images)

Italy plans to withdraw from the BRI by the end of the year and did not send an official to attend the summit.

Li Hengqing, an economist based in the United States, told The Epoch Times, “Now Italy has made it clear that it wants to withdraw. It actually represents the basic attitude of most developed countries.”

Ninety of the Fortune 500 companies participated in the last BRI summit, but only about 60 Fortune 500 companies have participated this year.

Online economic expert “Caijing Lengyan” told The Epoch Times, “The influence of the BRI is rapidly declining.”

He said, “Many countries have begun to understand that the CCP controls the third world countries through debt [incurred through BRI], so they are not so active in participating in the BRI. In addition, the profits of the BRI projects are getting lower and lower, and even losses occur, which is the main reason that there are fewer countries and fewer multinational companies participating.”

Feng Chongyi, an associate professor at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, told The Epoch Times, “Italy is now quitting the BRI, which means that neither developed countries nor democratic countries will participate. The CCP originally wanted to make the BRI a worldwide project, but now it has been downgraded to developing countries only. And many participating developing countries are having a lot of problems.”

Leaders of the developing countries that are deep in debt to China due to the BRI have attended this year’s summit, including Laotian President Thongloun Sisoulith, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Mane, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Sri Lanka Sees Economic Growth From Chinese Money
Construction workers walk on the grounds of what would become Chinese-managed Shangri-La retails and office complex in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Nov. 10, 2018. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

“Lengyan Caijing” said, “Their purpose of attending is to negotiate debts … A lot of the money lent by the CCP has become bad debts. Because many countries are bankrupt. For example, Sri Lanka went bankrupt and are not able to pay back [China’s investment in its infrastructure].” As a result, Sri Lanka had to lease its deepwater port in Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease.

Mr. Li said that although these countries could pay off the debts by giving CCP the rights to develop the rare mineral resources in their countries and leasing their ports to China, local people are protesting against it.

“Now that the global economy is shrinking, especially China’s economic downturn, it’s an impossible task for [the CCP] to maintain the momentum of the BRI,” he said.

Taliban Attended

The Taliban regime that controls Afghanistan, but hasn’t been recognized by the international community, was invited by the CCP and participated in the summit.

Mr. Feng said, “This is Xi Jinping’s grand project. He spent a lot of money in it. Now it’s unfinished and has been rejected by many. So he wants to continue to hold this summit to show how successful it is, having the more people attending the better. Now that the Taliban has come, he even has to pull them in for show.”

Since U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021, the Taliban has been in control of the country. So far, the Taliban regime hasn’t been recognized by any country. However, the Chinese communist regime is the first one to appoint a new ambassador to Afghanistan under the Taliban, and its official relationship with the Taliban regime has become increasingly close.

Afghanistan’s acting first deputy prime minister Abdul Ghani Baradar (L) and China’s ambassador at Kabul, Wang Yu, in Kabul, on Jan. 5, 2023. (Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP via Getty Images)
Afghanistan’s acting first deputy prime minister Abdul Ghani Baradar (L) and China’s ambassador at Kabul, Wang Yu, in Kabul, on Jan. 5, 2023. (Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP via Getty Images)

In August, Chinese state-backed telecom giant Huawei cooperated with the Taliban to build a large-scale camera surveillance network across Afghanistan.

CCP officials, the Taliban, and Pakistan agreed in May to include Afghanistan in the BRI and to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has rich mineral resources. Beijing has been in talks with the Taliban over possible plans to develop a massive copper mine in eastern Afghanistan. In January this year, China’s Xinjiang Central Asia Oil and Gas Co., Ltd. and the Taliban signed an oil exploration agreement involving a three-year investment of $540 million in northern Afghanistan. Chinese company Gochin also proposed in April to invest $10 billion to develop lithium mines in Afghanistan.

Li Yuanhua, a historian based in Australia, told The Epoch Times that as long as the CCP feels that it is beneficial to its own interests, it will engage with anyone. “So this time it invited the Taliban for the same purpose, which is to get minerals or other resources from there. The Taliban is now in power in Afghanistan. The CCP even supports Hamas, so of course it has no qualms supporting the Taliban.”

Luo Ya, Zhang Hong, and Ning Haizhong contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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