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Friday October 22, 2021

As China rises

September 23, 2021

The Covid-19 pandemic has jolted the world in many ways, halting the progress of the world’s leading economies in the process. Reportedly 220 million people contracted the virus and 4.6 million lost their lives while fighting the disease.

The pandemic has no doubt brought great grief to humanity. Businesses have perished and millions have lost their jobs. The world economy is witnessing the worst recession since the Great Depression. Covid-19 has added immensely to public debt, stressed tensions among countries, and created vast disorder in global energy markets.

Meanwhile, the global power play also continues to enhance its influence in the areas of energy, communication, economics, military and information management. The competitiveness between the US and China was imminent due to the consistent and phenomenal growth of China. This unprecedented growth was being viewed by America as a threat to its hegemony in the world. The contest visibly surfaced in 2017, when the Trump administration declared China and Russia the US’s leading contender in its national security policy.

China is a rising power and its unprecedented growth is a myth for global powers. The Belt and Road initiative (BRI has added further agony for the US and its allies which view the project as a threat to their global influence. China has time and again reiterated its pledge that the BRI is not against any country and is rather a project of cooperation and shared prosperity.

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a bilateral arrangement between two time-tested friends, is the flagship programme of the BRI which provides Pakistan an edge in the region due to its connectivity, improvement in communication infrastructure, enhancement in energy, industrial growth, job opportunities, development in agriculture and socio-economic initiatives. The BRI is a dynamic, purposeful and inclusive project for the benefit of not only China but the entire world. So far 136 countries have announced their participation in the BRI. CPEC is already progressing smoothly.

Now the US has come up with a project in cooperation with its allies, the G7 countries, which they have termed ‘Build Back Better World ( B3W)’. The new developments in Afghanistan have further added pressure on the US for its policies in South Asia. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan has left it with no base in the region which is likely to be the focus of world economic activity in future.

India is already facing embarrassment for the complete failure of its policies in Afghanistan due to the elimination of the proxies it had nurtured over the years, at very high cost, to fuel terrorism in the region.

On June 20, 2021, US President Biden met with G7 leaders to start the new Build Back Better World (B3W). Through B3W, the G7 and other like-minded partners will coordinate in mobilising private-sector capital in four areas: climate, health , digital technology, and gender equality. As a lead partner in B3W, the US will seek to mobilise the full potential of development finance tools, including the Development Finance Corporation, USAID, EXIM and the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

B3W is a retaliatory approach. The sectors mentioned in B3W mostly cover security areas not development. Gender equality is an extension of feminism, which is a movement for women’s rights. Nobody denies the fact that women are equal partners in society. Climate change is a serious issue but then why did the US back off from the Paris accord. How will global cooperation resolve health security questions? It is beyond comprehension. The best way to overcome health issues is to make nations self-sustainable by strengthening their economies through export and development of industries and infrastructure. The WHO is already working to help overcome health issues in underdeveloped countries. Another arrangement may be contradictory to the global institution.

The BRI was conceived and launched about eight years ago. However, analysts are raising questions on whether the West can respond to the rise of China and its Belt and Road Initiative. B3W is US led and is supported by G-7 countries. The G7 is made up of wealthy, highly industrialised nations, including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

B3W is just an announcement which will require sustained follow up by all but the key question is going to be not just follow-up but meaningful, sustainable follow-up, so that it's not a one-off but actually a priority. It is highly unlikely that the B3W programme will be able to operate with as few constraints as China can do.

The Belt and Road Initiative mostly involves bilateral funding agreements between Chinese banks and developing countries, with the infrastructure projects themselves serving as collateral for the loans. The US and its partners, operating in democracies with clear demarcations between the state and private businesses, won't be able to direct funding with that kind of precision. Will the G7 countries be able to convince their public back home about this engagement? It looks difficult. The West has already lost trust in the US and is fed up with fighting wars for American interests. They have just finished a more than twenty-year-long war ending in near-defeat.

The BRI was announced by China in 2013. The US and G7 countries are lagging behind by eight years. Though they have IFI at their disposal, it requires will of the highest order by the leadership of B3W to carry forward an ambitious plan just to counter the rise of China.

The BRI is just not an announcement but a priority for China, and has been termed a programme of shared prosperity and poverty alleviation. It is evident that a war of narrative alongside global supremacy of economy has set in. It will be a cold-war like situation. Having Russia on its side, it will be easier for China to respond to the G7 initiative.

US forces’ hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan also seems to be aimed at delinking itself from a mess of its own policies and gathering advanced industrial nations to push the American agenda to counter China and Russia. The cooperation between China, Russian, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the Central Asian Republics has diversified advantages for the region.

The Covid-19 pandemic has proved that the concept of power needs a change in its elaboration. Global cooperation is the solution to problems. The way the US is viewing the BRI is not productive for global peace and economic prosperity. The world is going through its worst economic crisis due to this pandemic and it cannot afford more shocks due to such global power rivalries. The US must understand the importance of cooperation and shared prosperity.

The writer holds a PhD in International Relations from QAU and can be reached at: [email protected]