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28 heads of state confirm attendance at China's belt and road summit next month

Heads of state from more than two dozen countries will attend a major summit in May to discuss China's new Silk Road initiative, said foreign minister Wang Yi, although there is a notable absence of leaders from major Western countries.

The summit, scheduled to be held on May 14 and 15 in Beijing, will be China's major diplomatic event this year as it pushes ahead with President Xi Jinping's flagship "Belt and Road Initiative" to launch a series of infrastructure projects across Asia, Europe and Africa.

Top leaders of 28 countries had confirmed they would attend the summit, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang and Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Wang said on Tuesday.

Heads of state from countries in Europe including Hungary, Italy, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Spain would also attend, as well as African leaders from Kenya and Ethiopia.

With the new Silk Road initiative, China is seeking to portray itself as a new champion for globalisation at a time when the world has become increasingly concerned with US President Donald Trump's anti-globalisation and isolationist agenda.

Wang said the belt and road initiative was tasked with addressing the backlash against globalisation.

"Today's world requires an open and inclusive platform, to gather our resources and to face the challenges of globalisation," Wang said. "The 'One Belt, One Road' initiative was born against this background," he said, using the former name for the plan.

China's plan has drawn scepticism from the West over the nation's real intentions. The attendance list for the summit is marked by the notable absence of leaders from major Western countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Canada.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May, despite previous media reports suggesting she was likely to attend, was not on the list. Instead, finance minister Philip Hammond would be the UK representative at the summit.

When asked whether he thought Western countries remained suspicious of China's intentions behind the new Silk Road initiative, Wang said the summit was about economic cooperation and not political in nature.

"The main body of the 'One Belt, One Road' consists of countries on the Asia continent. And of course [the route] also extends to relevant countries and regions," he said, adding that the attending leaders from the 28 countries were mostly from the "main body of the Asian continent".

Wang said the leaders of France and Germany had indicated their willingness to attend the summit, but were unable to due to schedule conflicts as their elections loom.

[Source: South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, 18Apr17]

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