Last week marked senior Biden administration officials’ first visits to developing countries to scout potential investments in infrastructure projects. Under the rubric of “Build Back Better World,” it was the opening salvo in a battle to counteract China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.
The US junket comes just a couple of weeks after the European Union formally unveiled, in embryonic form, its own answer to Beijing’s development challenge. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the new “Global Gateway” initiative in mid-September, which promises amped-up European investment in building the sort of developing world infrastructure China has been happily, if haphazardly, meeting for almost a decade.
Both the US plan — which ropes in G7 members as well as countries like Australia, India, and Japan — and the EU program aim to hit the ground running in early 2022. Taken together, these disparate efforts to revitalise development aid and assistance represent the clearest answer yet to what has become the signature foreign-policy item of Chinese President Xi Jinping: the so-called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to invest hundreds of billions, perhaps trillions, of dollars in roads, rails, power plants, ports, and digital networks across Asia, Africa, and Europe.