Two recent events involving leading western powers confirmed, yet again, the establishment – and expansion – of a global anti-China alliance. The 2022 NATO summit – especially the participation of the leaders of Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia – was meant to push the US agenda of globalising NATO. This is a US agenda first and foremost because many European nations, including France and Germany, were, until the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, talking in terms of establishing a European security system independent of NATO. But all of these states have abandoned this idea altogether. While the ‘NATOization’ of the Indo-Pacific region accounts for the globalisation of the US military hegemony, G7’s ‘new’ US$600 billion infrastructure plan aims to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) almost a decade after it was announced.
All of this has happened against the backdrop of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, and especially the way China has stood its ground against US/Western pressure. Therefore, most western powers, following the US, now see China as an “enemy state”, and they believe that they need to counter China through the very means Beijing has used in the past decade to expand its global outreach; hence, the infrastructure plan. Will it work?
As reports even in the western media have shown, this programme, called the “Partnership for Global Infrastructure” – is more pomp and show than a well-thought-out, ready-to-be-executed project. The project was originally announced in 2021 as “Build Back Batter World”, but it failed to kick off after Biden failed to give it the traction it needed. A second key reason contributing to its earlier failure was the fact that no partner countries provided the money they pledged, citing Biden’s problems with the US Congress as the key reason. This year, in 2022, Biden has only relaunched the programme. But this project still has many potholes to tackle.
Most of this US$600 billion comes as funding that the US, the EU and their global allies have pledged, and they will raise this money through funds, federal grants and private investment – which is yet to come – over a period of five years. The US$600 billion, in other words, is a sum that is neither readily available nor is there a clear source for its procurement. In simple words, the plan involves an announcement of so far non-existent resources.
Most importantly, will the funds pledged by the US and EU become available at all given the trouble their economies are in? Inflation in the US is at an all-time high, hitting 8.6 per cent in June 2022. Therefore, it remains questionable whether the Biden administration can actually divert enough resources – and attention – to the project. Even in Europe, inflation has reached almost 9 per cent, which means that most of these western states – the so-called “richest democracies” – are more likely to remain preoccupied with their domestic issues than contesting China in the Indo-Pacific.
Whereas the UK’s Boris Johnson is continuously in domestic turmoil, the return of Trump, or ‘Trumpism’ projecting a politics of prioritising America, in the US remains a possibility, as a very large white supremacist vote-bank awaits the next election. There is, therefore, an explanation for why most Indo-Pacific nations look upon any partnership with the West as a risky enterprise. For them, the many problems these states are facing are a stumbling block to a long-term partnership.
If the success of this plan against China depends, as Biden has quite often reiterated, on ‘Western unity’, the project already looks like a hard sell. Following Brexit, the UK’s ties with the rest of Europe are far from ideal. The UK has its own Pacific plan, which, too, is struggling to get traction. Inflation in the UK, too, has surpassed 9.1 per cent, with many workers’ unions striking and planning further industrial action. In fact, the UK has the highest inflation within the G7, dampening its ability to finance the anti-China drill as planned at the G7 summit.
There are, therefore, serious questions about the actual ability of G7 states to implement the plan as theoretically conceived. The economic turmoil surrounding China’s competitors comes on top of the fact the US$600 billion seriously lacks key details. No details were shared – because no details have been worked out yet – about the timeline of this project, how they will invest and in which specific countries to counter China. A lot of this is, therefore, delusional and too futuristic to offer anything tangible to the target nations to become a part of it.
As the White House itself said in a statement, “this [project is] … only be the beginning: the United States and its G7 partners will also seek to mobilise hundreds of billions in additional capital from other like-minded partners, multilateral development banks, development finance institutions, sovereign wealth funds, and more.”
This delusion was debunked by a recent report of Chatham House, in which it said that “Changing priorities among donor nations, driven by events in Ukraine, risk a further shift in development policy towards bilateralism and fragmentation within the G7 and with recipient nations.”
Most Asia and African nations understand that the G7 project is anti-China in nature. Therefore, there is the question of whether or not western projects, which will mostly be led by private investors, would match their own national plans and priorities. In fact, as the said report mentioned, G7 states are yet to come up with such a plan to wean the target states away from China.
Therefore, apart from the fact that this plan might already be too late (China’s BRI has spread across 140 countries already), it also seems too small a project in view of the many problems and potholes it needs to counter at both collective and individual (state) levels. Therefore, while it causes no worry to China, there is a lot for the West -especially, the US – to worry about to ensure its success.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.