By Gaurav Sharma BEIJING;
A TOTAL of 37 countries minus India on Thursday will gather at China’s second edition of the Belt and Road forum, a three-day grand event on the world’s largest connectivity project. The Belt and Road Initiative -- a trillion-dollar project floated by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 -- aims to connect Asia, Africa and Europe through a network of highways, rail lines, ports and sea-lanes.
The sheer vastness of the project and the money involved in it have caused much awe among many as well as consternation in some countries that see the initiative as China’s tool to increase its geopolitical influence. Under the project, China has poured billions of dollars in over 60 partner countries where it’s building vast infrastructure that range from seaports to railway lines.
The reports about many partner countries like Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Pakistan being under the burden of onerous Chinese loans under the projects have raised concerns about Beijing’s intent to create “debt traps”. China will seek to dispel this narrative at the three-day event of the year where heads of 37 countries - up from 29 from at the launch of the summit in 2017 - and representatives of over 100 international organisations will be present. While Russian President Vladimir Putin and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will be among the heads of states, India will give a miss to the forum like the last time in 2017.