The rival plan – Abdul Sattar


US President Joe Biden’s suggestion to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to design another infrastructure scheme to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative may have created a ripple of excitement among those who seek to contain China but Chinese officials seem less impressed by this new initiative. The scheme has been suggested amidst the escalating tensions between the two giant powers over the treatment of Uyghurs, the situation in Hong Kong, the West’s support for Taiwan and the trade practices of Beijing.

It may be mentioned that Biden suggested to Johnson that “democratic countries” should have a similar program to rival China’s BRI to help communities around the world – without giving further details. According to a section of Western media, the British prime minister, who welcomed the suggestion, talked about alleviation programs to offset the level of dependency on China through the initiative. It is also believed that Johnson and Biden have agreed to funnel hundreds of millions of pounds behind the program. The idea came after Biden’s pledge that he would prevent China from becoming the most powerful country in the world.

It may be good if the US really launched such a plan because in that case the countries in the Global South might be in a position to benefit. There is a lot of space for the West to work in global infrastructure projects. According to some estimates, the world needs around $700 billion annually to build roads, bridges, dams, ports, railways and other crucial means of transportation. Much of this is needed in developing states where the colonial time infrastructure is in shambles and the ruling elites have been diverting crucial funds towards arms and defence, leaving very little for public welfare projects or development schemes.

Wars in several parts of the developing world have exacerbated the situation. Pakistan is said to have lost over a hundred billion dollars because of the Taliban insurgency. In addition to that, states in Latin America, Asia and Africa also witnessed destruction worth billions of dollars because of social unrest, conflicts and civil wars.

These states need peace, stability and prosperity and one of the ways to alleviate their sufferings lies in carrying out huge investment in infrastructure projects. The poor states of the developing world do not have such investment. For a long time, these states waited for the Western world to come up with such plans but the West that contributed to a number of conflicts turned a blind eye to their appeals for funds to bolster their public welfare projects. Tracing a gap, Beijing jumped in – pumping billions of dollars into Asia, Africa and Latin America. It went to the extent of carving an area of influence in Europe by making generous offers to countries like Italy and Hungary.

The people of Africa welcomed the move with open arms. For them, an authoritarian China with billions of dollars for development projects is better than the democratic West with empty slogans and rhetoric of human rights. The opposition of the West to the Chinese investment in the African continent prompted a quick reaction from the latter, blaming London, Paris and Washington for the woes of black people who were enslaved and whose region was ruthlessly pillaged by the whites. Ignoring Western criticism they continued pushing trade between China and the African continent further ahead. Asia and Latin America also appeared supportive of the Chinese investment because the two continents had not witnessed such large-scale development projects for decades.

The last mega projects spree was witnessed in the aftermath of World War II when the US pumped billions of dollars into Western Europe and other states to help rebuild them. Before that America also undertook large-scale infrastructure projects in the 1930s to tide over the effects caused by the Great Depression.

Some analysts believe that Beijing had noted the shortage of infrastructure and lack of investment in this sector, prompting it to come up with the Belt and Road Initiative, which is said to benefit around 144 states covering a population of over three billion people. This is being described as the biggest trade initiative in modern times.

Now the US and its Western allies want to counter this ambitious infrastructure project but many are skeptical towards the claims of Washington. Critics believe that the US that contributed around 50 percent of the global GDP in the aftermath of World War II cannot financially afford any large-scale development projects’ initiative. They point out that if that were the case then the US would have improved its own crumbling roads, bridges and other civic necessities. There have been calls from various sections of American society to improve this infrastructure that has been in a shambles for years now.

Financial experts believe that the US economy is not likely to bounce back as it did soon after World War II. Even if it did, it would not be able to reap all the benefits because now not only ascendant China but Japan, Europe and even Russia are ready to challenge Washington, which means the sole superpower cannot get much benefit from the surge of demand for goods and services in the coming months.

The alternative that China has also talked about is interesting. The US is spending over $650 billion on its defence with a population of over 300 million while Beijing spends over $200 billion with a population of more than 1.2 billion people. The US has spent over three trillion dollars on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is spending a huge amount on the space force. The sole superpower also maintains over 800 military bases in more than 150 states. Many economists believing in the promotion of consumers’ goods would describe this spending insane. Similarly, the UK does not have any major foe now. So, it makes no sense for London to pump billions of dollars into the trident. The military might of the US is already unmatched and with its largest fleet caravan no country on earth can imagine attacking it; let alone triggering a conflict and defeating the mighty state.

Therefore, if the US really wants to translate its wish to help poor states into a reality then it must divert these billions of dollars towards this rival plan of offering loans and grants to the developing countries to checkmate Beijing. The UK has always copied its boss. So, if London can also put an end to this insane spending on nuclear weapons, it can also come up with substantial resources to turn this rival plan into a reality.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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