G7 global infra plan faces obstacles

18 June, 2021 12:00 AM printer

WASHINGTON: The global infrastructure plan announced by G7 leaders aims to offer developing nations a credible alternative to China’s much-criticised Belt and Road Initiative - but it faces major hurdles on the ground, especially if Beijing’s hiccups are any indication.

US President Joe Biden was able to convince the G7 to sign onto the initiative, drawing allies into Washington’s strategic rivalry with Beijing, under a plan titled “Build Back Better World” (B3W) that aims to provide hundreds of billions in infrastructure investment to developing nations, report agencies.

It is a project that takes a page from China’s book, with Beijing already attempting to wield influence and make friends with billions of dollars through its Belt and Road Initiative, albeit sometimes without great success.

The Beijing plan “has under-delivered on many of its promises and generated pushback against China from many countries, creating an opening for the B3W initiative,” said Eswar Prasad, a China specialist at Cornell University.

China launched the project in 2013, aiming to develop land and sea infrastructure that would link Asia, Europe and Africa to China.

Eight years later, the complaints abound: allegations of non-transparency, corrupt contracts and even human rights and environmental degradation.

One such example centres on a hydropower plant constructed on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, which has been widely criticised for damaging a rainforest that is home to the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan, the world’s rarest great ape.

The West also accuses Beijing of encouraging emerging economies to assume more debt than they can afford, for flashy projects which are not always entirely utilitarian.

“The risks for both the United States and recipient countries raised by BRI’s implementation considerably outweigh its benefits,” said a task force from the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which has scrutinised hundreds of projects and their implications.

In Africa in particular, China has succeeded in obtaining contracts by pricing its projects much cheaper than competitors.

“Little by little, the Chinese have eliminated competition from local businesses,” a development specialist in Africa told AFP, on condition of anonymity.

“In Mali, there was only one bridge over the Niger River in Bamako, there are now three, soon to be four,” he said, stressing that the projects were accompanied by gifts for local political leaders, such as the construction of villas.

The G7 project is touted by the White House as a “high-standard and transparent infrastructure partnership led by major democracies to help narrow the US$40+ trillion infrastructure need in the developing world”. G7 leaders hope to act as catalysts to attract private finance.

But according to the Africa development specialist “it is not so much a question of capital as it is of how to use large sums of money” due to complications from technical difficulties and endemic insecurity.