China state media says developed nations not shunning Belt and Road Forum

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese state media on Saturday rejected a Western claim that developed nations were shunning the country's Belt and Road Forum, while saying most of the leaders invited this year were from developing nations.

Critics see the ambitious Belt and Road initiative - billed as recreating the ancient Silk Road to boost global trade infrastructure - as a tool for President Xi Jinping's China to spread its geopolitical and economic influence.

Debate in the West over economic dependence on China has cast a shadow over longer-term trade and investment relations with Beijing. Italy, the sole Group of Seven nation in Belt and Road, said the decision by a previous government to join had been "atrocious".

The Wall Street Journal reported in July that the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and some other European countries did not plan to attend this year's Belt and Road Forum, to be held in the autumn, adding that the lacklustre response suggested a more challenging global landscape for Xi's diplomatic ambitions.

The state-run Global Times disputed that claim on Saturday, citing a source it did not name.

China has not invited the leaders of some developed nations mentioned in Western media reports, so the conclusion that they were "avoiding participation" does not hold, the nationalistic tabloid said.

Beijing remains open to their attendance if they wish to join the summit, it said.

China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

More than 150 countries, including Russia, have signed up to participate in Belt and Road in the decade since Xi unveiled it, most of them in Africa.

Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to visit China in October, coinciding with the Belt and Road Forum, Russian state news agency TASS reported.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by William Mallard)