Chinese President Xi Jinping has opened a regional economic forum by calling for more cooperation among Asian nations. He urged Asia to build "a community of common destiny."
In his keynote address at the Boao Forum on Hainan island in southern China, Xi stressed the need for Asian nations to join forces to increase regional and world prosperity.
"Facing the fast-changing regional and international landscapes, we must see the whole picture, follow the trends of our times and build a new regional order that is more favorable to Asia and the world," he told the hundreds of regional leaders at the China-hosted gathering, which has taken place annually since 2002.
He said that by improving trade and transport links in the region, "we can turn the seas of Asia into seas of peace and cooperation."
Xi also called on the world's nations to support Beijing's ideas for a new development bank that some see as a potential rival to the Western-dominated International Monetary Fund and World Bank and the Japanese-dominated Asian Development Bank.
Growing number of applicants
Seeking to allay such fears, the Chinese president said his country would promote "coordinated development between the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and multilateral financial institutions such as the Asian Development Bank and World Bank."
The AIIB is due to be set up later this year, with March 31 the deadline for countries to apply to join as founding members.
Despite Washington's reservations, European US allies including Germany, France, Italy and Britain have already said they intend to join the bank, along with China's top trading partner Brazil, Turkey and South Korea.
Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua reported on Saturday that Russia and Australia also planned to join, while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on his Facebook page that the Netherlands will also apply.
Chinese economy 'healthy'
In his speech, Xi emphasized that the Chinese economy was running as planned despite annual economic growth having sunk to about 7 percent, the lowest in 20 years.
"This new normal of the Chinese economy will continue to bring more opportunities for trade growth and development for the countries of Asia and beyond," he said, adding that China was now aiming for increased quality and efficiency as opposed to rapid growth in its economy.
He also announced more than $500 billion (459 billion euros) in Chinese investment abroad, saying that China's size gave it "more responsibility for world peace and development."
A focus of discussions at the forum is likely to be China's proposed "Silk Road economic belt" initiatives aimed at facilitating regional trade through cooperation on railways, roads, energy and information technology, the state-run China Daily newspaper said.
China is currently seeking to extend its influence in the region in a bid seen as a challenge to the previous dominance of the United States.
Leaders of Austria, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Armenia and Zambia were all expected to attend the forum, which its founders hope will become an Asian version of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
tj/sms (AP, dpa)