The United States will not send high-level officials to attend China's second Belt and Road summit in Beijing this month, a spokesperson for the US State Department said on Tuesday, citing "concerns" about financing practices for the project.
China's top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, said on Saturday that almost 40 foreign leaders would take part in the summit due to be held in Beijing in late April. He rejected criticisms of the project as "prejudiced."
The first summit for the project, which envisions rebuilding the old Silk Road to connect China with Asia, Europe and beyond with massive infrastructure spending, was held in 2017 and was attended by Matt Pottinger, the senior White House official for Asia.
There are no such plans this year. "We will not send high-level officials from the United States," a spokesperson for the US State Department said in answer to a question from Reuters.
"We will continue to raise concerns about opaque financing practices, poor governance, and disregard for internationally accepted norms and standards, which undermine many of the standards and principles that we rely upon to promote sustainable, inclusive development, and to maintain stability and a rules-based order."
"We have repeatedly called on China to address these concerns," the official added.
Chinese President Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative has proven controversial in many Western capitals, particularly Washington, which views it as a means to spread Chinese influence abroad and saddle countries with unsustainable debt through non-transparent projects.
On Saturday, Yang called such criticisms "prejudiced," saying China has never forced debt upon participants and the project was to promote joint development.
On Saturday, he did not name the 40 leaders he said would attend, but some of China's closest allies have already confirmed they will be there, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The United States has been particularly critical of Italy's decision to sign up to the plan this month, during a visit by Xi to Rome, the first for a G7 nation.
Washington sees China as major strategic rival and the Trump administration has engaged Beijing in a tit-for-tat tariff war.
The world's two biggest economies have levied tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of bilateral trade since July 2018, raising costs, disrupting supply chains and roiling global markets.
White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow on Tuesday said the countries "expect to make more headway" in trade talks this week, while the top US business lobbying group said differences over an enforcement mechanism and the removal of US tariffs were still obstacles to a deal.