PLYMOUTH, England – President Biden on Saturday urged European countries and Japan to counter China’s growing economic and security impact by offering developing countries hundreds of billions in funding as an alternative to trusting Beijing for new roads, railways, ports and communications networks .
It was the first time that the richest countries in the world discussed a direct alternative to China’s Belt-and-Road initiative, President Xi Jinping’s overseas lending and investment pressures, which have now spread across Africa, Latin America and up to stagnation in Europe itself. But the White House does not mention any financial commitments, and there is a sharp disagreement among the United States and its allies on how to respond to China’s growing power.
Mr. Biden has made a challenging growing China and a disruptive Russia the centerpiece of a foreign policy designed to build democracies around the world as a bulwark against the spread of authoritarianism. Beijing, in turn, cited the weak US response to the pandemic and divided US politics – especially the January 6 riots at the Capitol – as signs that democracy was failing.
In terms of size and ambition, the Chinese development effort far surpasses the Marshall Plan, the United States’ program to rebuild Europe after World War II. During the Group of 7 summit, the discussions on Saturday on how to counteract it reflected the debate in the West over whether China is a partner, competitor, adversary or a direct security threat.
It is far from clear that the rich democracies will be able to get a comprehensive response.
The plan outlined by the White House apparently merged existing projects in the United States, Europe and Japan, along with encouraging private funding. A fact sheet distributed to reporters was titled ‘Build Back Better for the World’, with its origins in Biden’s campaign theme – shortened to B3W, a play about China’s BRI.
It highlights the environment, attempts at corruption, the free flow of information and financing conditions that will enable developing countries to incur excessive debt. One of the criticisms of Belt and Road is that it leaves the countries dependent on China dependent, which gives Beijing too much leverage over them.
It was a sign of growing concern over ongoing Chinese surveillance that the British hosts of the G7 meeting this year cut off all internet and Wi-Fi links in the room where the leaders meet and disconnected them from the outside world. .
The leaders largely agree that China is using its investment strategy to strengthen its state-owned enterprises and to build a network of commercial ports and through Huawei communications systems over which it will exercise significant control. But officials who emerged from the meeting said Germany, Italy and the European Union were clearly concerned about risking their giant trade and investment agreements with Beijing or accelerating the tone of a new Cold War.
Mr. Biden used the meeting to advance his argument that the fundamental struggle in the post-pandemic era would be democracies versus autocracies.
The first test may be whether he can persuade the allies to reject participation in projects that rely on forced labor. U.S. officials said it was unclear what language about the rejection of goods or investments in such projects would be included in the final communications of the meeting, which will be issued Sunday.
But the meeting comes just a day after Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who met with Mr. Biden travels here, saying in a call to his Chinese counterpart that the United States would oppose a continuing genocide and ethnic cleansing against Muslims against a major opposition. Xinjiang, in China’s far western territory, and ‘the deterioration of democratic norms’ in Hong Kong. European leaders largely avoided this terminology.
The divisions over China’s views help explain why the West has so far failed to elicit a coordinated response to Belt-and-Road. A recent A study by the Council on Foreign Relations described Washington’s own reactions as “scattershot”. a mix of modest congressional adjustments to the rules governing the Export-Import Bank to compete with Chinese high-tech loans, and efforts to ban Huawei, China’s telecommunications champion.
The risk to the US strategy is that dealing with a patchwork of separate programs – and a Western insistence on good environmental and human rights practices – may seem less attractive to developing countries than the all-in-one package of funding and new technologies. in Beijing.
“Many BRI countries appreciate the speed with which China can move from planning to construction,” reads the council report, written by a dual group of China experts and former US officials.
The countries also appreciate China’s willingness to build what host countries want, rather than telling them what to do, and the ease of a single group of builders, financiers and government officials.
But Mr. Biden feels an opening as European countries begin to understand the risks of dependence on Chinese supply chains, and see how the reach of China extends into their own backyards.
Britain, which used to probably follow the most China-friendly policies in Europe, has swung strongly behind the American hard line, especially Huawei, which sees the US as a security threat. After trying to accommodate Huawei, he announced under Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he was removing older Huawei equipment from his networks.
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Germany, for which China has become the number 1 market for Volkswagens and BMWs, remains committed to involvement and is deeply opposed to a new Cold War. It kicked off decisions on the use of Huawei and other Chinese-made networking equipment along the way, following threats from Chinese officials to retaliate with a ban on the sale of German luxury cars in China.
Italy becomes the first member of the G7 to report to Belt and Road in 2019. Then it had to withdraw in part under pressure from NATO allies who feared that Italian infrastructure, including the telecommunications network, would be dependent on Chinese technology. .
When China sent face masks and fans to a desperate Italy during its Covid outbreak, an Italian official told his fellow Europeans most strongly that the country would remember who his friends were after the pandemic.
France did not join Belt and Road, although it welcomed Chinese investments in the country and no longer banned Huawei from its wireless network. Relations with China have cooled after President Emmanuel Macron criticized Beijing for its lack of transparency about the origin of the coronavirus.
“America will be well served if the European Union succeeds and defines a coherent China strategy,” said Wolfgang Ischinger, a former German ambassador to the United States. “His interests are not well served if there is a German China strategy, a French China strategy and a British China strategy.”
This is easier said than done. Britain has moved closer to the United States under pressure from former President Donald J. Trump – less because he changed his view on the strategy or security risks posed by China, than because he feared being isolated from his Brexit main ally. .
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who steadfastly believes in involvement with China, will step down in a few months. But Germany’s policies may not change much, especially if her successor as Christian Democrat leader Armin Laschet replaces her in the chancellery. He is considered a lock mate with me. Merkel.
France is a different story. Mr. Macron faces a huge challenge from the populist right in next year. The right-wing leader, Marine LePen, has vowed to resist China’s ambitions in the Indo – Pacific region.
“When you have one of these meetings, you will see liquidity in some country,” said Simon Fraser, a former top foreign service official in the British Foreign Office. But he added: “There is a lack of cohesion on the European side that needs to be addressed.”
Italy is a good test case of how China tried to build influence in Europe. Since joining Belt and Road, Rome has signed nearly two dozen deals with Beijing, ranging from tax regulations to sanitary requirements for pork exports. But Italy also vetoed a 5G deal between Huawei and one of its telecommunications companies.
At the heart of China’s investment in Europe is a railway network that connects its factories to the Pacific with London – a project that China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang once described as an explicit lane to Europe. Italy, which has an endpoint on the route, welcomes the investment as a tonic to its struggling economy.
But Britain’s relations with China have frozen deep. The government has imposed sanctions on China’s treatment of its Uyghur population and has provided more than 300,000 holders of British overseas passports in Hong Kong and offered a way to citizenship, after China imposed a draconian national security law on the former British colony. .
According to China analysts, attitudes in China are hardening across the board. The European Parliament has refused to ratify a major investment treaty, advocated by Germany, due to China’s heavy response to sanctions over the treatment of the Uyghurs. China has approved ten European Union politicians.
There is also evidence that Mr. Biden acknowledges that his aggressive language about China – as the great adversary in a fatal battle between democracies and autocracies – is unpleasant for many Europeans. He largely disapproved of the framework in the days before his European tour, and spoke more generally about the need to promote democracies in a competitive world.
For some analysts, it opens the door to a hopeful scenario in which the United States and Europe move toward each other, moderating the most extreme aspects of confrontation versus reconciliation in each other’s approaches.
“America is becoming more realistic about China from the hard line, while Europe is becoming more realistic from the soft line,” said Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a London think tank.