On Saturday, the Group of Seven richest democracies attempted to challenge China’s expanding influence by giving poorer countries an infrastructure plan that may match President Xi Jinping’s multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
The G7, whose leaders are gathering in southern England, has been looking for a clear response to Xi’s rising aggressiveness in the aftermath of China’s meteoric economic and military ascent over the last four decades.
U.S. President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders hope their plan, known as the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative, will provide a transparent infrastructure partnership to help narrow the $40 trillion needed by developing nations by 2035, the White House said.
“This is not just about confronting or taking on China,” a senior official in Biden’s administration said. “But until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.”
The United States later said there was a G7 consensus on the need for a shared approach to China on trade and human rights.
According to the White House, the G7 and its partners would use the B3W initiative to mobilise private-sector funding in sectors such as climate, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equity and equality.
It was unclear how the strategy would function in practise or how much funds it would finally deploy.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), unveiled by Xi in 2013, entails development and investment plans stretching from Asia to Europe and beyond.
Over 100 nations have signed agreements with China to work together on BRI projects such as railroads, ports, motorways, and other infrastructure.
Critics say Xi’s plan to create a modern version of the ancient Silk Road trade route to link China with Asia, Europe and beyond is a vehicle for the expansion of Communist China. Beijing says such doubts betray the “imperial hangover” of many Western powers that humiliated China for centuries.
Leaders of the G7 – the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, France and Japan – want to use their gathering in the seaside resort of Carbis Bay to show the world that the richest democracies can offer an alternative to China’s growing clout.
The re-emergence of China as a key global power is seen as one of the most momentous geopolitical developments in modern history, alongside the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, which effectively ended the Cold War.
China’s economy was smaller than Italy’s in 1979, but after opening to international investment and instituting market reforms, it has grown to become the world’s second-largest economy and a global leader in a variety of innovative technologies.
According to the US official, the West has failed to provide a good alternative to the Chinese government’s “lack of transparency, poor environmental and labour standards, and coercive approach” which has left many nations worse off.
According to a Refinitiv database, as of mid-last year, more than 2,600 projects at a cost of $3.7 trillion were linked to the BRI, although the Chinese foreign ministry said last June that about 20% of projects had been seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the G7 strategy, the US will collaborate with the US Congress to complement existing development finance and “collectively catalyse hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment” according to the White House.
CRITICISM DIRECTED AT CAMPS
Another US official said Biden made “forceful comments” to G7 leaders about the need to make a strong statement on what Washington and rights groups say is the use of forced labour in China, but there was a “spectrum of how far different countries are willing to go” in their criticism in the three-day summit’s final communique.
The U.S. official later said the G7 had reached consensus on the need for a shared approach on “non-market economic practices” and on human rights abuses, and to coordinate on supply-chain resilience.
According to authorities, the US pressed for specific language in the communiqué regarding suspected forced labour in China’s Xinjiang province.
According to UN experts and rights organisations, over a million individuals, mostly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been jailed in Xinjiang’s massive system of camps in recent years.
All allegations of forced labour or mistreatment are denied by China. It first denied the existence of the camps, but has later stated that they are vocational centres aimed to combat extremism. China said in late 2019 that all individuals in the camps had “graduated”
A request for comment from China’s foreign ministry was not immediately responded to.