The Latest: Hammond says Britain a good Belt & Road partner

The Latest on China’s Belt and Road infrastructure building conference. (all times local):

8:00 p.m.

British treasury chief Philip Hammond says Britain’s finance industry would be a “natural partner” for future projects under China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

On the sidelines of a Belt and Road forum in Beijing Friday, Hammond did not directly say whether Britain was considering signing an agreement to support the initiative, as Italy did last month.

But he said that if future projects were held to the highest standards “there is a potential important future partnership there for us.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping promised Friday to set high standards for projects, saying China wanted “open, green and clean cooperation” with “zero tolerance for corruption.”

Hammond said China has made it clear that in the next phase, most of the financing for projects will have to be raised privately.


2:50 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative meshes perfectly with the goals of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.

Putin’s comments Friday to a forum in Beijing may help alleviate concerns over potential tensions as China’s economic footprint expands, particularly in Central Asia, Russia’s traditional sphere of influence.

Putin told a Belt and Road forum in Beijing that China’s moves “fit perfectly into our plans.”

The Eurasian Economic Union groups Russia with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in a common market that seeks to remove barriers to the free movement of goods, services, capital and labor.

Putin said the five member states “unanimously supported the idea of linking the construction of the Eurasian Economic Community” and the Belt and Road.


12:45 p.m.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says China’s Belt and Road initiative offers a chance to help reverse the effects of climate change.

Speaking Friday at the Beijing forum, Guterres praised China for investments of more than $125 billion on renewable energy in 2017, saying they played a pivotal role in securing an agreement at last year’s U.N. Climate Conference in Poland.

The scale of planned Belt and Road investments, “offers a meaningful opportunity to contribute to the creation of a more equitable, prosperous world for all, and to reversing the negative impact of climate change,” Guterres said.

The U.N. wants to align the Belt and Road with its sustainable development goals, Guterres said.

Some critics note that Belt and Road projects include coal-fired power plants that can worsen climate change.


12:20 p.m.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan is hailing “substantial progress” in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a key element in China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

Addressing the Beijing forum on Friday, Khan said Pakistan’s electricity supplies had increased “massively” under the plan.

He said Pakistan was looking forward to the project, known as CPEC, moving into its next phase focusing on “social uplift,” poverty alleviation, agriculture and industry, including the opening of special economic zones.

He said Pakistan also wants to sign an expanded free trade agreement with China.

He said relations between the two countries are “strong, resilient, unbreakable.”

Financially troubled Pakistan has borrowed billions of dollars from China in recent years through loans whose terms remain largely undisclosed.

China has pledged more than $60 billion to Pakistan in loans and investments for roads, ports, power plants and industrial parks.

11:45 a.m.

Malaysian Prime Minister says he is “fully in support” of China’s Belt and Road initiative, after his government decided to resume a China-backed rail link project once the Chinese contractor agreed to cut the cost by one-third.

Addressing the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on Friday, Mahathir sought to erase doubts about Malaysia’s desire to take part in the massive infrastructure juggernaut.

“I am fully in support of the Belt and Road initiative,” Mahathir said. “I am sure my country, Malaysia, will benefit from the project.”

Mahathir devoted much of his address to the need to confront environmental and law enforcement challenges created by global trade, particularly the burden on countries

Mahathir’s decision to suspend the project after his election last May put a strain on ties with Beijing.


11:00 a.m.

President Xi Jinping has promised to promote high financial standards for China’s Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative as Beijing tries to dispel complaints the multibillion-dollar project leaves developing countries with too much debt.

Xi avoided mentioning debt complaints in a speech Friday at the opening of a forum to celebrate his signature foreign initiative. But he said Beijing wants “open, green and clean cooperation” with “zero tolerance for corruption.”

Developing countries welcome the initiative to expand trade by building roads, ports and other facilities across Asia and Africa to Europe. But high costs have prompted complaints some are falling into a “debt trap.”

Chinese officials reject such complaints and issued guidelines this week for assessing debt risks to Belt and Road borrowers.

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