China is moving forward with an ambitious project to build a new Silk Road linking Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, hosting regional allies and other foreign dignitaries in what is expected to be the country’s biggest diplomatic event of 2017.
Representatives of as many as 110 countries are expected to attend including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, as well as the leaders of Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Only one G7 nation leader, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, said he would attend the May summit although France, the UK and Germany are sending high-level delegations.
Called the the One Belt, One Road project, China is attempting to revive an ancient Eurasian trading network which will combine on-land economic corridors with international shipping lanes to boost trade flows and encourage long-term economic investment and development.
If realised, the network would stretch from Xi’an in China, on through to Tehran, Istanbul, Moscow, Rotterdam and terminating in Venice.
Maritime routes would stretch from Fuzhou in China, on through the South China Sea to ports in Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya before also terminating in Venice, according to a map by China’s Xinhua News Agency.
China has dedicated nearly €38 billion to the project and was one of the driving forces behind China’s €47 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the project “is to date the most important thing China has given to the world”.
The project was initially put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, and although it has yet to achieve major western support, there are signs European countries may be warming to the concept’s promise of continental trade.