China holds its “new Silk Road” summit, less than a third of member leaders attend

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Representatives from several countries met in Beijing today to discuss global trade within the Chinese-led trade organization known as “One Belt, One Road” or Obor.

But only 20 heads of state from Obor’s 68 member states attended the conference.

No Middle Eastern leaders showed up, and only seven eastern European leaders and one African leader attended.

Obor was created in 2013 by China as a “Globalization 2.0” to rival other trade groups such as the G20 and Davos led by western countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the project in open to all nations.

The group’s goal is to create a new “Silk Road” linking Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe by land and sea routes.

Among their plans is a proposed railroad stretching from east China to London.

In response to President Trump’s “America First” attitude, which now seems to have diminished, Chinese President Xi Jinping has asked the member nations to sign a document opposing all forms of protectionism.

china banquet
Dancers perform at the Obor gala. Source: AP

At the conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the populist movements taking root in the West.

“Protectionism is becoming the new normal,” he said, claiming that free trade was being rejected by nations that had previously championed the idea.

While some analysts say the New Silk Road will spread a plague of Chinese corruption, others say it might actually have a negative impact on the Chinese economy.

“It’s likely to backfire a little on the Chinese,”  Dennis Wilder, former senior director for Asia at the U.S. National Security Council, told Bloomberg. “It’s a little bit full of itself and enthralled with its new position and it can be tone deaf to others.”

“What it represents is President Xi himself feeling very confident about China’s ascendancy. He got great coverage of his remarks at Davos, and he’s feeling as if the United States has ceded a lot of ground in the international arena to him,” said Wilder.

At the last minute, the U.S. decided to send a trade representative to the summit.

The project whose 68 members hold 40% of the world’s GDP include many poorer, less stable countries like Afghanistan, Yemen, Venezuela, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

If Obor should fail, it would be a huge embarrassment for China.