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Could G7’s B3W rival China’s BRI?

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A pedestrian poses for a photograph with a G7 logo outside the media centre at Falmouth, Cornwall on June 10 ahead of the three-day Group of Seven (G7) summit held from June 11-13. AFP

Could G7’s B3W rival China’s BRI?

The recent US-led Group of Seven (G7) Summit was a let down as this gathering of rich nations had squandered an incredible amount of attention to counter China, to the extent of neglecting other more pressing and important global issues to help the world.

From June 11 to 13 the leaders of the US, Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan attended the annual G7 summit at the Cornwall seaside resort in the UK.

It is interesting to learn how Germany’s media RND has portrayed the three-day event sarcastically.

In an analysis headlined China und die sieben Zwerge (China and the Seven Dwarfs), RND said US President Joe Biden hopes to form a new network of democracies to restrain China – “the awakened giant”. But to China, which has a population of 1.4 billion, G7 is like seven dwarfs.

The article implies that “G7 cannot live without China”, just like the seven dwarfs keep worrying about the sleeping Snow White in the Disney fairy tale.

But while the US, UK, Canada and France have adopted an anti-China stance, Italy, Germany and the EU want to build a “cooperative relationship” with Beijing. And Japan’s attitude is ambiguous.

Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel, while agreeing China is a “systemic competitor”, sees Beijing as a partner on issues such as climate protection. She said at the meeting: “Without China, we would never be able to achieve solutions in these areas.”

However, to show solidarity, all G7 members endorsed a US-proposed infrastructure plan to rival the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of China.

The G7’s “Build Back Better World” (B3W) initiative will “provide a transparent infrastructure partnership to help narrow the $40 trillion needed by developing nations by 2035”, according to the White House.

While many nations are benefiting from the BRI projects, it will be a case of “the more the merrier” for those in dire need of highways, railways, ports and bridges to boost connectivity and development.

Prominent Chinese YouTuber Cheng Yue sees competition from G7 as “good for Beijing” as this will provide an opportunity to show who can do a better job. However, he has doubts on the G7 plan.

While the West has cast doubt on the eight-year old BRI and warned recipient nations not to fall into China’s “debt trap” and sphere of influence, this has not stopped BRI projects from expanding.

Since the BRI was proposed in 2013, about 140 countries and regions – including G7’s Italy – have signed cooperation agreements with China, according to Global Times. China’s direct investment in these countries and regions have totalled $136 billion, it added.

Malaysia, one of the first nations to embrace BRI, has seen its trade with China surging and economic activities spurred by Chinese investment.

In fact, the BRI is now seen as a successful flagship project of President Xi Jinping. The World Bank Group said in a June 2019 report: “BRI transport projects can expand trade, increase foreign investment and reduce poverty. If fully implemented, they could increase global trade by 1.7 to 6.2 per cent.”

Currently, the BRI network links China to Central and South Asia and onward to Europe on its overland route. Its maritime route links China to South East Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Described as “a pirated version BRI” by Chinese netizens, this US-led initiative is seen by many analysts in China as no rival to BRI.

As the intention of the B3W is to counter China, this may not appeal to some neutral nations or those that have received aid from Beijing.

For nations that do not want values and politics to be imposed along with projects, the BRI may be a better option as China does not impose unwarranted conditions.

Through BRI, China has helped countries build up industrial parks alongside infrastructure construction that has generated more investment and economic growth. Pakistan, Asean and African countries have witnessed these improvements.

While B3W is good for poor nations in theory, helping developing countries without conditions may not be the motivation behind the US-led plan.

Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International affairs at Renmin University of China, wrote: “Behind the B3W plan, it is the US intention to maintain hegemony in the world. In addition, the US can use the move to cover its attempt to export its surging internal inflation to the world.”

Indeed, the trust and confidence in China – whose policy is not to interfere with the domestic affairs of other countries – has been further enhanced after Beijing sent out the much-needed vaccines to countries seeking and needing help.

For infrastructure projects to be implemented, money must be there. Where will the funding for costly projects under B3W come from?

Most G7 nations are laden with heavy debts. Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan for the US has been downsized, from the original $2.3 trillion to the recent $1.7trillion.

If the private sector is involved, it will be wishful thinking to expect Western corporations to be kind to their pockets. So can we now expect these profit-minded entities to turn Santa Clause?

Looking back, China has laid down financing plans for BRI projects.

The Silk Road Fund and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank were quickly set up, and China’s state banks are now playing an important role in financing BRI jobs.

From the technology aspect, there is a glaring gap between China and most of the G7 countries.

China is known for its expertise and speed in building bridges, dams, highways and railways, as well as the lower cost in construction.

China has the longest high-speed rail (HSR) in the world and its HSR lines account for 60 per cent of the world’s total.

On the ground, G7 might need to ask: How many of its experts are prepared to work insanely long hours like the Chinese?

Within G7, Japan has the experience of competing with China for Asean infrastructure projects. It should know how tough it is to rival China.

Beijing has also shown it can forgive debts from poor nations. Could the G7 nations emulate this benevolence if B3W projects fail?

In fact, it may be easier said than done to rival China’s BRI – whose implementation has been fraught with risks and challenges. And still is.

G7 will do the world a service if its B3W aims to help poor nations in economic development, alongside BLR, rather than containing China.

Ho Wah Foon / THE STAR (MALAYSIA)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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