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Belt & Road Meeting Draws World Leaders04/25 06:28

   BEIJING (AP) -- Beijing was enveloped in a massive security presence 
Thursday as leaders gathered for a conference on China's sweeping Belt and Road 
infrastructure initiative.

   Paramilitary troops, police and various other security services patrolled 
streets, subway stations and other key locations, while major roads were to be 
closed to clear the way for visiting dignitaries and their hosts.

   The event celebrating the push for China-backed road, port and rail-building 
projects across the developing world, President Xi Jinping's signature foreign 
policy initiative, is one of Beijing's biggest of the year.

   It brings together leaders or envoys from three dozen countries including 
Malaysia, Indonesia, Serbia, Myanmar and Kenya.

   Many have welcomed the help with building up modern infrastructure in a 
region the Asian Development Bank says needs $26 trillion of investment by 2030 
to keep economies growing.

   But most projects are built by Chinese state-owned companies and involve 
loans from government banks carrying commercial interest rates. China often 
imports much of the labor to build the projects, raising complaints they create 
too few local jobs.

   Experts working in development also have expressed over the potential the 
projects might cause environmental harm or encourage corruption.

   Some countries, including Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand, have canceled or 
renegotiated terms of projects they found to be too expensive or otherwise 

   During the three-day gathering in Beijing, some Asian and African leaders 
plan to press for relief from debts financial burdens.

   Beijing has gradually won support for the Belt and Road from countries that 
initially shied away. Italy became the first member of the Group of Seven major 
economies to sign on with a recent agreement to support it. Japan has also said 
it's willing to work with China on some projects.

   But the U.S. and some other countries fret over Beijing's expanding 
influence, contending that the plan is meant to build a China-centered 
political empire and undercut good governance.

   China vehemently denies it is setting "debt traps" for countries 
participating in Belt and Road projects. Chinese officials say Beijing is 
learning from experience and examining borrowers more carefully to ensure they 
can repay loans.

   Possibly due to tighter scrutiny, the number of new Belt and Road projects 
has plunged.

   The total value of new contracts fell 42 percent in the first half of 2018 
compared with a year earlier, according to Moody's. 


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