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Saturday , November 17 2018

Xi extolls free trade at Asia meet

Bloc seeks to challenge Western-led order

Russian President Vladimir Putin during a photo session of the SCO Heads of State, heads of observer nations and leaders of international organisations ahead of an expanded format meeting of the SCO Council of Head of States in Qingdao. (From left), front row: President of Mongolia Khaltmaagiin Battulga, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hassan Rouhani, Prime Minister of the Republic of India Narendra Modi, President of the Kyrgyz Republic Sooronbay Jeenbekov, President of the Republic of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon. From right: President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani, President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan Mamnoon Hussain, President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping in Qingdao on June 10. (AFP)

QINGDAO, China, June 10, (Agencies): Chinese President Xi Jinping extolled free trade and criticized “selfish, short-sighted” policies Sunday during a closely orchestrated gathering of a Beijing-led bloc, standing in stark contrast with the G-7 summit that ended in disarray over trade tensions. “We should reject selfish, shortsighted, narrow and closed-off policies. We must maintain the rules of the World Trade Organization, support the multilateral trade system and build an open global economy,” Xi said. Though his remarks did not mention US President Donald Trump, Beijing has sought to portray itself as a defender of free trade in response to the American leader’s support for import controls.

This is despite China’s status as the most-closed major economy. Xi also hailed the entry of new members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, calling the presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain “of great historic significance” in opening remarks at this weekend’s summit of in the northern Chinese port of Qingdao.

Their two South Asian nations joined the bloc as full members last year. With tight security, closed roads and restricted press access, the summit’s choreographed show of unity was a striking contrast to the tumultuous Group of Seven summit of leading industrialized nations that concluded Saturday in Quebec and saw the US and its allies divided by escalating trade tensions. Trump lashed out at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an extraordinary set of tweets from Air Force One, calling him “dishonest & weak” and retracting the US endorsement of the G-7 summit’s communique. The Beijing-led bloc, which experts see as seeking to challenge the Western- led order, is dominated by China and Russia and also includes Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Founded in 2001, it was originally conceived as a vehicle for resolving border issues, fighting terrorism, and – more implicitly – to counter American infl uence in Central Asia following its invasion of Afghanistan.

The summit comes as Russia and China have boosted ties in response to the US national security strategy that describes them as America’s top adversaries. “We should reject the Cold War mentality and confrontation between blocks,” Xi said, adding that the countries should “oppose the practices of seeking absolute security of oneself at the expense of the security of other countries.”

Component
In recent years, the Shanghai bloc’s economic component has grown more prominent, embodied in Xi’s signature, trillion-dollar foreign policy and infrastructure drive known as the Belt and Road Initiative. Xi announced that China would offer 30 billion yuan ($4.7 billion) in loans through the bloc, highlighting its economic aspect. Beijing’s infrastructure projects in Central Asia make some in the bloc uncomfortable – particularly India, which alone among members has refused to endorse the program.

Russia, too, is wary of China’s expanding influence, and though it has somewhat reluctantly embraced the Belt and Road, it is also seeking to expand its own economic and political leverage in the region through a customs union it dominates known as the Eurasian Economic Union. In related news, the leaders of China and Russia Sunday praised the expansion of their regional security bloc at a summit which put on a show of unity in stark contrast to the acrimonious G7 meeting.

President Xi gave the leaders of Pakistan and India a “special welcome” to their first summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao, since their countries joined the group last year. Founded in 2001, the SCO also includes the former Central Asian Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, whose country is an observer member, also attended the meeting as he seeks Chinese and Russian support following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Tehran. Warning that “unilateralism, trade protectionism and a backlash against globalisation are taking new forms”, Xi spoke up for the “pursuit of cooperation for mutual benefit”.

While never mentioning the United States by name, he added: “We should reject the Cold War mentality and confrontation between blocs, and oppose the practice of seeking absolute security of oneself at the expense of others, so as to obtain security of all.” Xi, whose government is locked in tough negotiations with the United States to avoid a trade war, said World Trade Organisation rules and the multilateral trading system should be upheld to build an open world economy. “We should reject self-centred, shortsighted and closed-door policies,” said Xi, whose own country has been accused of restricting broad access by foreign firms to its huge market

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