The Struggle between the US and China for the Developing World

Defeating COVID-19 and achieving a global economic recovery will require an urgent program of mass vaccination

There is fierce competition between the United States and China for global dominance. In the developing world, however, the struggle has intensified, with the focus recently shifting to vaccination and infrastructure, which could bring important benefits to low-income countries.

Defeating COVID-19 and achieving a global economic recovery will require an urgent program of mass vaccination. To counter the aggressive diplomacy of China (and Russia) in the developing world, which is lacking in resources, under Joe Biden’s diplomatic initiative the U.S. and its allies in the Group of Seven major industrial nations (Germany, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom) announced a vaccination initiative at their recent summit meeting. They also promised to offer low-income countries financing and assistance for infrastructure development under the initiative known as “Build Back Better for the World,” seeking to provide an alternative to what China has been doing for some years now under its “Belt and Road” program.

However, the G-7’s offers of vaccinations for the developing world, while provided without charge, appear to be inadequate: They amount to only 2 billion doses since the start of the pandemic (1 million since the summit meeting). The needs are much greater because the pandemic is not letting up and new outbreaks are appearing in Latin America and India (Africa is still a question mark).

With regard to infrastructure, it is necessary to make the “Build Back Better for the World” initiative more substantial, avoiding duplication of other programs so as not to slide into mere rhetoric if the U.S. really wants to compete with China. About 100 countries already have projects under the “Belt and Road” initiative, which is having financial problems and often does not take environmental impacts into account. The U.S. and its allies have been slow to provide an alternative to “Belt and Road” through projects that are sustainable, transparent, of higher quality and with lower debt. The risk is that “Build Back Better for the World” will end up by recycling projects, with very little financing, at a time when the wealthy countries are decreasing their support for the poor countries.

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