Chinese President Xi Jinping positioned China as a defender of free trade and multilateralism in a speech from Beijing on Saturday.

Addressing the leaders' roundtable meeting at the Second Belt and Road Forum, the Chinese president called on countries to open their borders and co-operate in order to boost trade and development.

"We should work together to build an open world economy and oppose protectionism," exhorted Xi.

"Through bilateral, tripartite and multilateral co-operation, we will encourage more countries and enterprises to deeply take part in the process and expand the pie of common interests," he outlined.

The Belt and Road initiative is a large-scale infrastructure project which aims to expand global trade. The plan, launched in 2013, seeks to revive the Silk Road between Asia and Europe as well as building new links in the Middle East, Africa and South America.

Leaders from 37 countries and dozens of officials are due to attend the three-day summit, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and the heads of state of all 10 ASEAN (Association of South-east Asian Nation) members.

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