G7 Leaders Unveil Major Infrastructure Project Designed To Counter Chinese ‘Belt and Road Initiative’

On Saturday, 12 June, the Group of Seven (G7) nations revealed plans for a major infrastructure program for lower-income countries. This program, dubbed the “Build Back Better World” (B3W) initiative, is clearly intended as a Western-aligned alternative to Beijing’s ‘Belt and Road’ (BRI) infrastructure initiative, which some commentators believe to be a vehicle for the expansion of Communist China. Reports indicate the G7 – the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, Italy, France, and Japan – and its allies will use the B3W to narrow the $40 trillion infrastructure need of developing nations by 2035. This will occur through mobilization of private-sector capital in various areas.

Leaders of the G7 made it clear that the B3W initiative was more than simply competing with China’s already-existed initiative. “[T]his is not just about confronting or taking on China,” a senior Biden administration official said, continuing that “until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards and our way of doing business.” In particular, officials have pointed to the fact that the B3W will fit international environmental and labour standards as a major distinction between it and the BRI. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose nation has huge investments in China, called the B3W an “important initiative” that was much needed throughout Africa. “…[I]t’s the G7’s ambition to have a positive agenda for a number of countries… which are still lagging behind … I welcome it,” she said.

However, representatives of Beijing were quick to criticize the G7. “[T]he days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone,” said a Chinese embassy spokesman in London. “[W]e always believe… that world affairs should be handled through consultation by all countries.” Such a statement is usually welcome, but a closer analysis of China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative reveal this to be political posturing rather than the actual practice of the Chinese government. Critics of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ point to a serious power imbalance – in particular, predatory lending practices, a lack of transparency, a high risk of debt distress – as one of the major issues with the system. According to an American official, the B3W initiative is intended to offer a positive alternative which does not follow the same “coercive approach.” Indeed, from the outset, the B3W initiative is designed to resolve these issues with transparent practices and a “values-driven” approach.

The specifics of the G7’s plan, and the group’s resolve, remain to be seen. Competing with a major Chinese infrastructure program will take time, money, and commitment. As of writing, Al Jazeera reports that more than 100 countries signed agreements with China to cooperate in BRI projects. This includes railways, ports, highways, and other infrastructure. In fact, the B3W initiative is only one of many promises to emerge from this year’s summit. The G7 have also pledged to vaccinate the world against coronavirus, take on climate change with a mix of technology and money, and force large corporations to pay their fair share of taxes. It is critical that the G7 nations (and their allies) do what they can to ensure these promises are kept. While there certainly seems to be a renewed drive for international cooperation, the past few years have revealed how fickle this can be. A failure to uphold these promises could herald the end of the liberal international order that has prevailed since the end of the Second World War.