Raft of countries including Turkey have refused to attend latest summit amid growing concern about debt diplomacy

The three-day forum starting on Thursday is meant to promote Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s “project of the century”, a foreign policy initiative launched in 2013 to revive ancient trading routes between Asia and Europe, as well as build new links in the Middle East, Africa, and South America.

But in contrast to its first summit two years ago, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) takes place in a much less welcoming environment. Critics say the initiative is an effort to cement Chinese influence around the world by financially binding countries to Beijing by way of “debt trap diplomacy”.


Countries that previously attended but have chosen not to come this year include Turkey, which has publicly criticised China over is treatment of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority, Poland, Spain, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Argentina, according to the Eurasia Group, citing geopolitical issues as a possible reason.

Critics have also called for China to institutionalise the Belt and Road initiative, so that the project is not seen as entirely Chinese-led. Others have cited environmental concerns, as Chinese companies build coal power projects around the world. Coal projects accounted for as much as 42% of China’s overseas investment in 2018, according to the China Global Energy Finance database.

“For the sake of the planet, for people who could be breathing in pollutants from coal plants and for the long-term economic health of many developing countries, let’s hope BRI quits coal,” said Wawa Wang, senior adviser at VedvarendeEnergi in Denmark.

Ahead of the forum, China has scored some key wins for the project. Italy is now the first G7 country to endorse the initiative, ....