Walking the tightrope between the US and ChinaMonday, June 21, 2021
We can't say we are surprised that US President Joe Biden was able to convince G7 leaders to sign on to America's rivalry with China under an infrastructure investment programme for developing countries.
In fact, had Mr Biden not sought to fashion that alliance at the recent G7 summit he would have missed one of his best chances to strengthen Washington's hand in its geopolitical joust with Beijing, which has been growing in intensity over the past four years at least.
It is no secret that in recent years China has been increasing its investment and philanthropic footprint in developing countries, including Jamaica.
In 2013 the Chinese Government upped the ante with its 'Belt and Road' infrastructure initiative, pumping billions of dollars into the project designed to link Asia, Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa to China. Over that time America had shifted most of its focus to the threat of terrorism and to its duty to protect its people, even if it found it difficult to ride and chew gum at the same time.
There is, though, a view that China has not delivered fully on many of its promises under the Belt and Road Initiative, especially in African states. That, therefore, opened the door for the USA's Build Back Better World (B3W) project, which has won buy-in from the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan.
The US has described the initiative as a “high-standard and transparent infrastructure partnership led by major democracies” to help narrow the more than US$40-trillion infrastructure need in the developing world. It is expected that G7 leaders will act as catalysts to attract private financing.
The initiative is impressive, but given that it is in its infancy we await more information.
However, questions are already being asked about how such large sums of money will be utilised in jurisdictions with endemic insecurity issues. For instance, Agence France Presse has reported an Africa development specialist as asking: “Why build infrastructure which, after completion, is likely to be destroyed by local militias?”
How issues like that will be dealt with is left to be seen.
At the same time, as former Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding correctly noted in an analysis of the B3W initiative, we may well be looking at a replay of the Cold War of the 1960s and 1970s, which saw the US and the Soviet Union competing for global influence. This time, however, the combatants are Washington and Beijing.
Mr Golding noted that China's engagement in Latin America and the Caribbean is a national security issue for the US, especially given that China has invested in and controls several ports, particularly in Latin America, raising the question: What if in a conflict China weaponises these to disrupt America's trade routes and its economy?
The former prime minister also pointed out that China, through major investment projects and long-term supply arrangements, is gaining increased access to the mineral resources needed to feed its massive industrial capacity which, the US argues, enables it to compete unfairly globally.
He recommends, correctly, that we need to start thinking about how we will respond to this struggle between two economic giants with whom we already enjoy good relations. The balancing act will not be easy.
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