Iran says it is fully on board to help revive Silk Road, an ancient trade route for a thousand years which China plans to expand between Asia, Africa and Europe.
Leaders from 29 countries and ministers and top officials from many others will gather in Beijing for a two-day summit starting on Sunday to map out development of the “Belt and Road” initiative.
Delegates are about to discuss the plan which involves hundreds of billions of dollars over the coming decades, underpinned by building ports, railways and power links across Asia and on to Europe.
Iranian Minister of Economic Affairs and Finance Ali Tayebnia arrived in the Chinese capital on Saturday to represent the country at the forum, IRNA news agency reported.
“Iran will employ all its power, cooperation and effort for better implementation and completion of this initiative because it believes that the plan will play an important role in the global development and relations among countries,” he said.
Chinese government officials say more than 50 memorandums of understanding, plans, cooperation letters and cooperation projects in transportation, energy and communications will be signed during the meeting.
The Asian economic giant says its businesses signed projects worth $304.9 billion in Belt and Road countries between 2014 and 2016, but more is in the pipeline and investments of almost $1 trillion have already been announced.
The initiative is expected to funnel investments worth up to $502 billion into 62 host countries over the next five years. Analysts say most funds may flow into India, Russia, Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, the Philippines and Pakistan.
The web of trade would span over countries representing more than 40 percent of the world’s GDP, that are home to 4.4 billion people — more than half of the world’s population — giving it a potential to affect global trade patterns.
The biggest beneficiaries of the plan could be midsize domestic construction and machinery companies and Asian infrastructure firms, with China likely to give certain countries preferential treatment, according to Bloomberg.
However, a crucial mechanism that Beijing is considering for the success of the Belt and Road Initiative is using local currencies instead of dollars, which has sent shockwaves across the West.
Western governments and media have gone into great lengths to project the initiative as part of China’s grand scheme for influence in Asia.
Reuters quoted a Chinese expert as saying that politics was being put ahead of economic factors.
“I believe that the national strategy is the top priority; economic considerations are secondary,” it quoted the unnamed economist at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, a Beijing-based think-tank, as saying.
China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said the new Silk Road would be a boon for developing countries that had been largely neglected by the West.
“As some Western countries move backwards by erecting ‘walls,’ China is contriving to build bridges, both literal and metaphorical. These bridges are China’s important offering to the world, and a key route to improving global governance,” it said in an English-language commentary on Saturday.