“I proposed that we have a democratic alternative to the Belt and Road initiative, to build back better,” Joe Biden said, combining a jab at Beijing with a nod to his own campaign during a press conference at the close of the G-7. “We put together a committee to come up with that.”
Although the venerable bunch gathered in Cornwall exhibited a shared sense of urgency when it comes to bracing the democratic world for China’s push to establish itself as an economic and military superpower, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel resisted Biden’s efforts to single out Beijing, at least as it relates to development efforts.
“This is not about being against something, but for something,” Merkel said. “[The] G-7 is not a group that is hostile to China,” Macron remarked.
A “task force” to explore democratic, globalized infrastructure initiatives sounds like a prelude to a pipe dream. The notion that the G-7 nations can devise and implement a democratic version of Belt and Road on an expedited timeline is, unfortunately, a wholly laughable proposition.
Biden said such an initiative would have “high standards” and be “climate-friendly” and “transparent.” Even the “friendly” media with the “highest standards” was quick to suggest the idea is “transparently” far-fetched.
“It is far from clear how the wealthy democracies will be able to muster a comprehensive response,” The New York Times wrote Sunday. “The plan appeared to stitch together existing projects in the United States, Europe and Japan, along with an encouragement of private financing.”
In other words, there is no plan. Not for that, and not for much else either, apparently. There was a communiqué, though, and US officials suggested the insertion of references to China counted as a win. “Three years ago, China wasn’t even mentioned in the G-7 communiqué,” one official said. “This year, there’s a section on China that speaks to the importance of coordinating on and responding to China’s nonmarket economic practices and the need to speak out against human rights abuses.”
For his part, Biden said “there’s plenty of action” on China. He declared himself satisfied.”
The communiqué also called for a “timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based” probe into the origins of COVID-19, but that’s no more plausible than the expeditious establishment of a Western version of Belt and Road. Eventually, someone will determine where the virus came from, but it won’t be because the Party committed to full transparency. Even if the US intelligence community decided there was enough evidence to make an accusation, China isn’t Iraq. This isn’t an “at a time of our choosing” type of deal, although it might one day come to that if the situation in Xinjiang were to take one final, ghastly turn for the worse.
“The final communique cited China explicitly on human rights issues in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, but omitted any mention of Beijing in the section on forced labor practices,” Bloomberg noted, adding that “US officials said the G-7 had converged on China more than ever before, in particular on human rights abuses.”
The somewhat stark reality is that there just isn’t much the US and its allies can do to “counter” China’s rise. The US can keep up, but not if the same GOP lawmakers who take every opportunity to bolster their hawkish foreign policy bonafides can’t connect the dots between domestic investment and strategic defense. It doesn’t take a leap of logic to equate economic modernization to national security, but for too many Republicans, protecting the country is solely about missiles and tanks. As if China is going to invade San Francisco.
While nobody has any good answers, a common sense approach might involve simply communicating to Beijing that although the West can’t stop China’s rise, the US and Europe can certainly make it a maddeningly arduous affair.
While China’s overall development may be moving along quite rapidly, the push to internationalization the yuan isn’t exactly breaking any land speed records. And while the likes of Ray Dalio are keen to suggest (tacitly and otherwise) that the world is underweight Chinese assets, the fact is, people remain nervous about committing capital when so much depends on the whims of the Party. Finally, it’s still entirely possible that China suffers some kind of systemic financial crisis, Beijing’s uncanny ability to juggle flaming swords notwithstanding.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called the G-7 outcome “a significant move forward [which] reflects a growing convergence that wasn’t there a few years ago.”
For their part, the Chinese Embassy in the UK said “the days when global decisions were dictated by a small group of countries are long gone.”