China's Xi Jinping says Belt and Road Initiative needs to reject protectionism, 30 leaders agree to support
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the Roundtable Summit Phase One Sessions of Belt and Road Forum at the International Conference Center in Yanqi Lake on May 15, 2017 in Beijing, China. Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday urged major multilateral institutions to join his new Belt and Road Initiative, stressing the importance of rejecting protectionism in seeking global economic growth.

According to Xi, it was necessary to coordinate policies with the development goals of institutions including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), ASEAN, African Union and the European Union.

"We need to improve policy coordination and reject beggar-thy-neighbour practices," Xi said on Monday, while addressing other world leaders at a summit on the initiative in Beijing.

On Sunday, Xi pledged US$124 billion (S$174.6 billion) for his new Silk Road which aims to bolster China's global leadership ambitions by expanding links between Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond, as US President Donald Trump promotes "America First".

"This is an important lesson that can be drawn from the global financial crisis and is still very relevant to the development of the world economy today," Xi added. "We need to seek win-win results through greater openness and cooperation, avoid fragmentation, refrain from setting inhibitive thresholds for cooperation or pursuing exclusive arrangements and reject protectionism."

The Belt and Road initiative, the brainchild of President Xi Jinping, is seen as part of China's answer to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, a regional trade pact involving Pacific Rim countries, but excluding China. The TPP, touted by the previous US administration of President Barack Obama, has effectively been killed by Trump, who has withdrawn US support.

Xi said in contrast that China's Belt and Road plan would be inclusive and open to all. He said deep-seated problems in global development had yet to be addressed effectively, with international trade and investment sluggish, and economic globalisation encountering headwinds.

"In a world of growing interdependency and challenges, no country can tackle the challenges, also the world's problems, on its own," Xi said.

The Belt and Road forum was attended by around 30 state and government heads as well as delegates from more than 100 countries. The heads of the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and World Bank were also present at the summit.

South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that almost 30 countries have already agreed to work together to build roads, railways, ports and other key infrastructure under the Belt and Road Initiative led by China.

However, some Western diplomats have expressed unease about both the summit. The whole plan has been seen as an attempt to promote Chinese influence globally. They are also concerned about transparency and access for foreign firms to the scheme.