Find an alternative to the Belt Road Initiative
Launched in 2013, with more than 100 participating countries, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a development strategy that aims to connect China to Europe, reviving historic trade routes. The strategy is to develop transport and trade infrastructure by providing loans and aid to some developing countries, with less regard for the governance and democratic standards of the beneficiaries. Thus, China has become a valuable partner for several poor and developing countries that were desperate for investment and loans.
Having borrowed more than they can repay, many of these states are now drawn into the Chinese debt trap and into the sphere of influence. The global reach of these BRI projects, and their role in strengthening China’s sphere of influence and material capacities, and thus its assertive foreign policy, has raised eyebrows in the West and other regional powers. Similar debt trap diplomacy in India’s neighborhood, with projects crossing Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, has raised alarm bells in India.
Adding fuel to the fire, several normative threats from the BIS, such as the opaque, authoritarian and undemocratic way of lending, as well as less environmentally sustainable projects, are expected to seriously damage the current world order. As a result, several western and regional democratic powers intend to limit China and counter its BRI projects. A similar intention was manifested at the recent G-7 meeting, where President Joe Biden presented the “Build Back Better World” (B3W) initiative.
But this is not the first time that an alternative has been sought or considered against the BRI. From 2007, the Indo-Pacific region catches up with a new trend towards minilateralism. This new phenomenon has emerged as a balance between bilateralism and multilateralism, where a small number (usually 3-4) of like-minded states tackle non-traditional threats specific to the region, rather than forming an alliance. military. A variety of these mini-laterals such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD), the US-Japan-India trilateral, India-Japan-Australia trilateral, etc. have emerged in recent years.
Rather than lending to the developing world like the BRI, the mini-laterals deal with various issues, such as migration, maritime security, drug trafficking, cybercrime, climate change, humanitarian aid and disaster relief. disaster, pandemics, information sharing, technology, infrastructure etc. Thanks to this cooperation, states avoid a direct confrontation with Beijing and wait their time for material and diplomatic empowerment. For example, these states are keen to maintain maritime security in the Indian Ocean, as the ocean is expected to contribute more than 20% of global GDP by 2025. In addition, cooperation on connectivity, infrastructure, sustainability and human security will help build an “open and inclusive” people-centered regional order. Its fallout will benefit several small states and developing states and thus push China to embrace accountability and democratic values in its investments and lending.
Another attempt presented by India and Japan in 2017 was the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC). This bilateral partnership aimed to promote quality and sustainable infrastructure (social and transport), development projects and connectivity in Africa. The aim was to promote a “free and open” world order, while providing an alternative to China’s growing investment and influence in Africa. However, unlike the BRI, these investments are not mega-business projects and are problematic and require specific investments. Its connectivity initiative is limited only to maritime connectivity between Japan, India and Africa. In addition, the diverging interests of Indian and Japanese companies and states have only led to limited coordination and success of the initiative.
Another attempt to counter the BRI has been made by the United States, Japan and Australia via the Blue Dot Network. The initiative has certified infrastructure projects meeting high standards of transparency, sustainability and development impact. This was aimed at boosting the confidence and image of private investors so that they can meet the global need for infrastructure, thereby thwarting China’s undemocratic and opaque investments. However, by not being a lending and financing institution like the BIS, this initiative has had limited success and membership.
Thus, none of these initiatives offered a democratic and transparent alternative to counter the opaque, coercive and unsustainable investments of the BIS. It is in this context that we must read the announcement of B3W by Mr. Biden at the recent G-7 summit. The B3W initiative intends to mobilize support from the G-7 and other like-minded states to close the $ 40 trillion infrastructure gap in the developing world, through investments from the sector. private. Presumed to be evaluated with the Blue Dot Network, recipient countries are promised transparent, democratic, sustainable and long-term beneficial and impactful investments. This would act as an economic counterweight to the BIS, and also allow Western and regional powers to limit Chinese debt trap diplomacy, political ambitions and assertiveness.
That being said, the initiative is not without its challenges either. The main challenge for the United States would be to secure the support of the EU and the rest of the G-7 members for this new initiative. As the UK continues to rally with the US, a major challenge emerges as Germany and the EU continue to view China as a vital trading partner. In addition, Italy’s simultaneous participation in the G-7 and the BRI complicates unanimous support for the B3W.
The second challenge arises from the fact that most of B3W’s investment would come from the private sector, with the intention of seeking profit in new markets. It is therefore important to assess how these investments would seek to counter BIS investments and loans sponsored and supported by the state.
The final challenge stems from the complex history and identity of the West and the rest of the developing world. The colonial history of the West, neo-imperial tactics, and the conditions for democratization and transparency of economic assistance continued to arouse feelings of sovereign sensitivity in the developing world. This is the main reason that attracted them to China’s “unconditional” financing and loans. The West must therefore go a long way to regain the confidence of its former colonies, for which mere apologies and allocations cannot suffice.
Despite these challenges, the B3W offers an excellent opportunity to counter the BRI, economically. This initiative, when complemented by other mini-lateral and AAGC initiatives, provides an excellent opportunity for Western and regional powers to strengthen the material and diplomatic powers of states, while also giving a normative balance to values. and China’s undemocratic order. It is therefore even in India’s interest to join this initiative.
Joining the B3W will not only improve India’s ties with the Quad, G-7 and other regional powers, but will also help it mitigate the effects of the Chinese debt trap and pearl necklace in its neighborhood. , including in Pakistan. In addition, India’s experience as a traditional donor and investor in several African and Asian states can help the West with material investments and also cope with their sensitive sovereign feelings.
The authors are respectively an M.Sc in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science which comments on foreign policy issues and an M.Sc in Development Studies with specialization in Applied Development Economics from the LSE.