BEIJING Chinese provinces are gearing up for more investment in railways and ports at home to expand international trade in response to President Xi Jinping's ambitious Belt and Road initiative, government officials said on Saturday.
Leaders from 29 countries will attend the Belt and Road forum in Beijing on Sunday and Monday, an event orchestrated to promote Xi's vision of expanding links between Asia, Africa and Europe underpinned by billions of dollars in infrastructure investment abroad.
While China's outbound investment appears to be a key focus of the new Silk Road initiative, some Chinese provinces seen as strategic to the plans said they are also ramping up infrastructure investment.
Officials from the Chinese province of Zhejiang, an affluent coastal province in eastern China, said it is planning new Belt and Road-related projects worth 123 billion yuan ($17.8 billion), and about half of that would be spent within the province, mainly on infrastructure.
That includes a new $870 million railway to connect China's manufacturing powerhouse Yiwu and port city Ningbo, connecting the province's sea ports with continental ports, said Li Xuezhong, director of the provincial office of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
"Once completed, that would be very beneficial for improving the global logistic system," Li said in a briefing ahead of the two-day forum.
Another senior official from the southern province of Guangxi, bordering Vietnam, said on Saturday upgrading existing infrastructure to improve transportation speed "in all directions" within China is a key focus for the province.
"We can only play a bigger role in the Belt and Road initiative if we do a good job in building transportation infrastructure to help (China's) western region develop," Zhang Xiaoqin, vice governor of Guangxi said at a separate briefing.
Zhang added Guangxi is building a railway linking the provincial capital Nanning with the northern Gansu province, among other projects.
China has depended on debt-fueled infrastructure investment to hold up growth which slowed to its lowest level in 26 years last year, even as China is looking to shift towards a more balanced economy more driven by consumption and services.
Its economy grew a better-than-expected 6.9 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, partly supported by an infrastructure spending spree which triggered concerns that it has once again resorted to old growth models.
($1 = 6.8972 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo; Editing by Ros Russell)