Over the past few years, China is the country around which major moves by the West have orbited. It is as if the West would be lost were its conversations not always revolving around China; at the recent Group of Seven summit, the topic of China was, yet again, at the center.
According to Reuters, on June 26, President Joe Biden and the other G7 leaders launched an initiative called the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment at their annual meeting in Germany, pledging to raise $600 billion within the next five years to fund infrastructure projects in developing countries.
Although Biden did not mention China directly in his speech, the rest of the world believes this plan has China in its sights. Reuters, Bloomberg, Fox Business, Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald and other English-language media, however, directly indicate the initiative’s purpose: The plan is to compete with Belt and Road Initiative and eventually supplant it. Hindustan Times’ reporting was slightly more neutral than the aforementioned media; its headline read, “G7 Unveils Rival to China’s BRI.”
China did not participate in the G7 summit, but it was, once again, the central star. The reason I say “again” is because at the G7 summit held in the U.K. last year, Biden also announced a global infrastructure plan aiming to cross swords with China, namely the Build Back Better World initiative. Biden pledged at the time to invest billions of dollars to “meet the enormous infrastructure needs of low- and middle-income countries.” He also said the plan should be clearly oriented as a Western alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative.
However, since its celebrated debut, the B3W initiative has resided in obscurity. According to Foreign Affairs, due to tangled goals and a power imbalance at home, a year after the B3W plan was proposed, the U.S. government’s commitment to global infrastructure development work added up to a paltry $6 million. Even if Congress were to appropriate another $50 million, it would be a far cry from reaching the heights of Biden’s big talk. Now, the U.S. simply does not bring up B3W anymore and instead promotes the PGII initiative. This most recent iteration of the same initiative is just out with the old, in with the old.
Other countries find the U.S. plan unconvincing. This is due, in part, to the U.S.’s stagnant progress in its own domestic infrastructure development. When Biden took office, he ambitiously proposed a $4 trillion infrastructure bill. After bipartisan bargaining, the budget was cut to $1.2 trillion. A report by the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that U.S. infrastructure has a $2.5 trillion funding gap; the appropriated $1.2 trillion cannot fill even half that.
Biden said at that time that over the next five years the U.S. would mobilize $200 billion in grants, federal funds and private investment to support projects in low- and middle-income countries. Given Biden’s inability to make headway on that promise, how credible is he this time around? Of course, the U.S. has now smartened up, roping in the EU and other G7 member states, but if the helmsman cannot lead the way, how can we expect junior partners to be of use?
In response to the PGII plan, the Wall Street Journal believes that, although Biden has striven to unite allies in jointly battle against China, this initiative is likely to resurface the same old problems that always thwart Western solidarity. Foreign Affairs stated it bluntly: The U.S. infrastructure development capabilities are far less robust than those offered by China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and the U.S. should not try to “beat China at its own game.”
Of note, the U.S. is unable to fend for itself, and yet it is still committed to crafting various schemes — schemes that will propel itself into conflict with China. Just prior the G7 summit, the White House announced another scheme, the Partners in the Blue Pacific initiative by the U.S., Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K., aiming to strengthen their involvement in the affairs of Pacific countries. Some analysts believe that the scheme is to counter China’s growing presence in the Pacific. Other various cliques led by the U.S included the Australia-U.K.-U.S. partnership; the U.S., Japan, India and Australia’s Quadrilateral Security Dialogue; and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. All work overtly and covertly to contain China.
After Biden announced the PGII plan on social media, netizens flocked to comments sections. One wrote, “Every few months, the G7 launches a new initiative that relies on ‘plans and commitments.’ Then nothing happens until another plan comes along that cycle makes it seem as if something is actually being done.” It is a mouthful, but when you think about it, it really is like that.
Another netizen was spot on: “Until the G7’s arms investments are reduced, raising $600 billion will not be possible. They are the bringers of bullets, not bread.”
Coincidentally, a Chinese netizen expressed a similar opinion: “The advantage of the U.S. is not in building, but in bombing.”
In fact, for China, healthy competition is not a bad thing. At the regular press conference on June 27, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian pointed out that China always welcomes all initiatives that promote the development of infrastructure around the world. China does not take issue with countries competing to replace each other’s various initiatives, but we do oppose advancing geopolitical machinations under the banner of infrastructure development, all the while discrediting and slandering the Belt and Road Initiative. Whatever the intent is of the initiatives, what the international community wants to see is donor countries digging into their pockets and projects that bring tangible benefits to the people.
Right now, the world is looking for the fruits of the G7 meeting to see if the U.S. will be true to its word.