US President Joe Biden has proposed that democratic countries form an infrastructure plan to rival China’s ambitious Belt and Road (OBOR) initiative while conversing on the phone with his UK counterpart, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on Friday.
“I suggested we should have, essentially, a similar initiative, pulling from the democratic states, helping those communities around the world that, in fact, need help,” Biden told reporters.
The two leaders had spoken to discuss their countries’ respective policies regarding Iran and China, as well as ongoing global COVID-19 vaccine rollout and tackling climate change as a key part of "building back better from the pandemic".
"They talked about shared international challenges. The leaders agreed on the need for Iran to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal. On China, the prime minister and president reflected on the significant action taken by the UK, US and other international partners earlier this week to impose sanctions on human rights violators in Xinjiang and expressed their concern about retaliatory taken action by China," a Downing Street spokesperson said, quoted by Reuters.
Joe Biden’s proposal comes as on Thursday he vowed to thwart China’s attempts to outpace the United States and prevail as the most powerful country in the world.
“China has an overall goal ... to become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world… That’s not going to happen on my watch because the United States is going to continue to grow,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Thursday, during his first press conference since his swearing-in ceremony.
US President @JoeBiden says #China's goal of becoming the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world is "not going to happen on my watch." Hmmmm… pic.twitter.com/5F9YWp2cRz— Frontline (@Frontlinestory) March 26, 2021
Amid the spiraling rivalry between the two global heavyweights, Biden indicated plans to unveil a multi-trillion-dollar plan to upgrade US infrastructure next week, with emphasis on promising new technologies, such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence and biotechnology.
Joe Biden also made reference to “hours upon hours” of interaction with China’s President Xi Jinping when he served as vice president under former President Barack Obama. Biden tore into the Chinese president, saying:
“He (Xi) doesn’t have a democratic - with a small ‘d’ - bone in his body, but he’s a smart, smart guy.”
Biden’s remarks fall in line with contentious public statements made days earlier during the first high-level, in-person talks between US and Chinese officials under his administration in Alaska.
The Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the time that the US would "discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies".
Earlier, during their first phone call in February, US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping spoke about a range of topics, including "the shared challenges of global health security, climate change, and preventing weapons proliferation", according to a White House release on their talks.
At the time, the POTUS referred to China as America's "most serious competitor" while expressingd a desire to "work with Beijing when it's in America's interest to do so".
Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
Washington-Beijing tensions escalated under the Donald Trump administration as the two sides found themselves embroiled in a trade spat, slapping duties on each other's goods.
Washington additionally targeted Chinese tech giants, including Huawei, accusing Beijing of an espionage campaign without offering any proof to substantiate the claims. The allegations have been dismissed by China.
China was also lambasted for ostensibly lack of transparency regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, something that Beijing has also rejected vehemently.
One of China’s most ambitious projects - its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – has been a thorn in the US administration’s side.
The multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping and presupposing development and investment initiatives stretching from East Asia to Europe, has already drawn over 100 countries into its fold.
Agreements have been signed with Beijing to cooperate in BRI projects to build railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure.
As of mid-last year, over 2,600 projects estimated to cost around $3.7 trillion were linked to the initiative, according to a Refinitiv database.
While seen as potentially boosting China’s economic and political clout, the project has raised concerns in the United States, with Washington seeking to encourage private sector investment for overseas projects to rival those of the BRI.
However, the US administration has, to date, fallen short of blueprinting a viable alternative to the state-backed global infrastructure development strategy put forward by Beijing.
The Trump administration denounced the project as “predatory” in its 2018 National Defense Strategy, and alleged it was a manifestation of “debt trap diplomacy.”
After Italy joined OBOR, as the initiative is also called, in March 2019, the US National Security Council tweeted that endorsing BRI ‘lends legitimacy to China’s predatory approach to investment’.
Italy is a major global economy and a great investment destination. Endorsing BRI lends legitimacy to China’s predatory approach to investment and will bring no benefits to the Italian people.— NSC 45 Archived (@WHNSC45) March 9, 2019
Nevertheless, between 2017 and 2019, over a dozen Latin American countries and ten Caribbean nations joined OBOR, with nearly all NATO member states in Eastern and Southern Europe having associated with the project, writes Fortune.
For #Caspian digital connectivity is the future, perhaps the future already here. #digital Silk Road. pic.twitter.com/EV58VNcwuD— Efgan Nifti (@enifti) March 26, 2021
As part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Beijing launched the Digital Silk Road (DSR) of undersea cables, data centers, and 5G telecommunications systems in 2015, with a ‘Polar Silk Road’ seeking to link China to the Arctic and Antarctic outlined as part of its new 2021-2025 “five-year plan” published in early March and quoted by state-run Xinhua news agency.
The Chinese government has maintained its steadfast insistence that the BRI is purely a peaceful, “win-win” development initiative.