China’s high-profile 2nd Belt and Road Forum ended Saturday with the signing of deals worth USD 64 billion and affirming respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity towards Beijing’s trillion-dollar BRI projects, a key demand of India.

The forum in which 37 heads of the state and governments took part concluded with an announcement by Chinese President Xi Jinping that cooperation agreements worth USD 64 billion were signed at a CEO conference during the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) meeting.

A total of 283 items of practical outcomes were achieved during the preparatory process and the holding of the forum, Xi said in a statement to the media after his round table meeting with the world leaders.

A joint statement issued at the end of the meeting highlighted that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation should respects openness, transparency, inclusiveness and level playing field. It affirmed the respect for sovereignty.

“We respect sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other and affirm that each country has the right and primary responsibility to define its development strategies in accordance with its national priorities and legislation,” it said.

The reference for sovereignty and territorial integrity was significant in the context of India’s boycott of the BRI and BRF following its protests over the USD 60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) being laid through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK), disregarding New Delhi’s objections.

China says it is an economic project and will have not impact sovereignty-related issues.

The statement also carried an annexe mentioning names of “Economic corridors and other projects catalysed and supported by connectivity“.

The CPEC, the Nepal-China Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, including Nepal-China cross-border railway and China-Myanmar economic corridor figured in the list in the South Asian region.

The Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) corridor, which has been previously mentioned as part of the BRI, did not figure in the list.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was among the 37 leaders who took part in the meeting.

Besides Khan, Nepal President Bidya Devi Bhandari of Nepal and State Counsellor Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi attended the meeting from India’s neighbourhood.

Rest of the countries from South Asia were represented by ministerial and officials level delegations.

Like in first BRF meeting in 2017, India skipped the meeting over its objections on the CPEC.

This time the US has emerged as a fierce critic of the BRI and abstained from the meeting, asserting that its predatory financing is leaving the smaller countries in heavy debt.

Earlier in the day, speaking at the round table meeting of the leaders, Xi called for joint efforts of all parties to promote high-quality development of the Belt and Road projects.

He said the BRI should benefit all around the world and deliver common development by following established international rules and norms.

“We must implement the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits to see that all voices are heard, all reached their full potential and all stand to benefit,” the Chinese President said.

The BRI must be open, clean and green and follow high standards, people centred sustainable approach, he said, adding that it should be aligned to the United Nations’ sustainable development agenda.

“Align our cooperation with universally accepted rules, standards and best practices and pursue social and economic progress and environmental protection in a balanced way. The BRI should be beneficial to all and deliver common development,” Xi said.

Those who attended the BRF meeting included Russian President Vladimir Putin and heads of several Asian, African and Latin American countries besides heads of the UN and the IMF.

Concerns over Chinese investments grew louder after China acquired Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port for a 99-year lease as a debt swap.

The heavy Chinese financing of the CPEC also raised concerns over Pakistan’s ability to pay back.

China has clarified that less than 20 per cent of the CPEC projects are based on loans provided by it and rest of the 80 per cent ventures are either directly invested by Beijing or used Chinese grants.

The BRI was launched by President Xi when he came to power in 2013. It aims to link southeast Asia, central Asia, the Gulf region, Africa and Europe with a network of land and sea routes.

China is doling out huge sums of money for infrastructure projects in countries from Asia to Africa and Europe, enhancing its global influence.

Commenting on the BRF meeting, Li Xiangyang - Director of China’s National Institute of International Strategy - said that “the BRI has helped China expand its global friendship network which shows that China is playing an increasingly pivotal role in promoting regional development and safeguarding multilateralism“.

The initiative, which focuses on utilising market and economic resources to explore new diplomatic relations with other countries, also drives the country’s transition to economic diplomacy, Li told Global Times on Saturday.