Leaders from emerging economies are visiting China for the 'Belt and Road' forum

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, centre, arrives at Beijing's airport ahead of the Belt and Road Forum in the Chinese capital on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023. (Jade Gao/Pool Photo via AP)

BEIJING – Leaders of emerging market countries are arriving in Beijing for a meeting organized by the Chinese government that will mark the 10th anniversary of its Belt and Road Initiative.

More than a dozen leaders from Africa, Asia and the Mideast were flying into Beijing on Monday, following the arrivals of Chilean President Gabriel Boric and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Sunday. Others are coming on Tuesday.

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Under the Belt and Road Initiative, a signature policy of President Xi Jinping, Chinese companies have built ports, roads, railways, power plants and other infrastructure around the world in a bid to boost trade and economic growth.

But the massive Chinese development loans that funded the projects have also burdened some poorer countries with heavy debts.

A flurry of diplomacy is expected on the sidelines of the third Belt and Road Forum, whose main events are on Wednesday. Orbán met with Xi and Premier Li Qiang, Hungary's state news agency MTI said. The forums also were held in 2017 and 2019.

Kenyan President William Ruto will be seeking additional loans for stalled road projects despite the country's already high public debt, and an easing of the repayment of a Chinese loan for a railway project that has not proven commercially viable.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to attend the forum, as are representatives of the Taliban government in Afghanistan.

Putin downplayed the idea that China, through its Belt and Road projects in Central Asia, is competing for influence in a region that Russia has long considered its backyard.

"Our own ideas on the development of the Eurasian Economic Union, for example, on the construction of a Greater Eurasia, fully coincide with the Chinese ideas proposed within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative,” he told Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, according to a transcript posted on the Kremlin website.

The leaders who arrived on Monday included Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet.