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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Leaders from 37 countries and delegates from more than 150 are gathering in Beijing for the second forum on China's sprawling Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. The U.S. isn't sending any high-level representatives.

The backdrop: Getting that many world leaders to turn up might seem like a triumph for President Xi Jinping, but he'll actually have to do some damage control.

Jonathan Hillman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) writes for Axios Expert Voices that in the 2 years since the last forum, concerns have grown over corruption, debt sustainability, environmental impacts and local benefits in addition to worries about Beijing's true motives.

  • "High-profile projects in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Montenegro and elsewhere have undercut the Belt and Road Initiative's promise to deliver 'win-win' outcomes, appearing to benefit China at the expense of its partners," Hillman notes.

Dan Kliman, of the Center for New American Security, says that while Xi will attempt to "rebrand and reboot" Belt and Road this week, "this is a strategic geopolitical exercise, so they don't want to take steps that would reduce their control."

The bottom line: Chris Johnson, a former top CIA China analyst now at CSIS, says the message will be: "We have heard your feedback, taken it into account, and we're making changes. But guess what, the region still has a huge need for infrastructure and we're ready to provide it."

  • Johnson says the message to the U.S. is, "try as you might, you're not going to be able to stop us."

What to watch: U.K. Treasury Secretary Philip Hammond will attend the summit, fresh off a decision to allow Chinese tech giant Huawei to help build the Britain's 5G network despite vocal U.S. objections.

Go deeper: China's road to global dominance

Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

Mapped: The world's most and least corrupt countries

Expand chart
Data: Transparency International; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

The most corrupt governments in the world are in South Sudan, Syria and Somalia, according to Transparency International's annual index, while the "cleanest" are in Denmark, Finland and New Zealand.

  • Breaking it down: The U.S. is 27th, China 66th, India 85th, Brazil 96th and Russia 136th. Scroll over the map to see each country's ranking.

Crypto leads to massive surge in online scams

Expand chart
Reproduced from FTC; Chart: Axios Visuals

Bogus cryptocurrency investments led to an unprecedented increase in online scams last year, according to new data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Why it matters: Cryptocurrency is an easy target because while it's surging in popularity, there's still a lot of confusion about how it works.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
3 hours ago - Health

New clues emerge on long COVID

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The presence of certain autoantibodies or high amounts of coronavirus RNA in the blood could be indicators a patient has a higher chance of developing long COVID, according to a new study in the journal Cell.

  • Other factors include a person having Type 2 diabetes or the reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus.