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The US has a new plan to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Will it go the way of the others?

A recently announced US-led infrastructure project involving India, Europe and the Middle East will boost economic development through improved connectivity and integration between Asia, the Persian Gulf and Europe, according to proponents.

The ambitious plans bear a strong resemblance to China’s larger Belt and Road Initiative, and if completed, would be seen as a challenge to China’s strategy.

But some observers have cast doubt on the prospects for the US-led project, which has already seen several of its predecessors evaporate.

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The highlight of the project – which did not directly involve China – is a rail and shipping corridor that would connect India to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and ultimately the European Union, allowing greater trade between the countries , also in the field of energy and energy. digital products.

It was announced this month at the Group of 20 summit, which the Chinese and Russian presidents did not attend.

“It’s a big problem. It’s really a big problem. This project will help make the Middle East a more prosperous, stable and integrated region,” said US President Joe Biden.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden at the G20 summit where the infrastructure plan was announced. Photo: AP alt=Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden at the G20 summit where the infrastructure plan was announced. Photo: AP>

The Group of Seven – made up of six Western states and Japan – has launched similar initiatives in recent years, including the Build Back Better World (B3W) program in 2021, which identified China as a strategic competitor, as well as its renewal – the five -year Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investments in 2022.

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B3W focused on “human infrastructure” such as healthcare security and gender equality, while the new project builds tangible infrastructure such as power lines, hydrogen pipelines and high-speed data cables.

According to Josef Gregory Mahoney, a professor of politics at East China Normal University in Shanghai, the lack of substantive results from previous proposals such as B3W points to the ideological – as opposed to practical – nature of the plan.

“No one is naive enough to believe that this new plan is anything more than a campaign talking point, a plan that supports Biden’s re-election, similar to his grandiose rhetoric at the recent G20,” Mahoney said, adding that it is a “ anti-political approach”. -[belt and road] green fantasy that American policymakers cannot even realize at home, let alone abroad.”

Washington may also be targeting growing Chinese influence in the Middle East – a key player in its new plan. This year, Beijing helped broker the Saudi-Iran deal that ended a seven-year diplomatic rift and made proposals on several regional conflicts, including an end to the war in Syria and a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

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But expanding on its strategy, Washington said its project could help “turn the temperature down” on the “turbulence and insecurity” coming from the Middle East.

Andy Mok, a senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank, said that while reducing tensions in the region may be a valuable goal, it is unlikely to be achieved.

“Relying heavily on economic solutions without the fundamental values ​​of respect for each country’s development models and choices can be problematic,” Mok said.

“Less coordinated initiatives,” rather than “well-mapped strategies,” underscored Washington’s “impulsive response” to China’s diplomatic capabilities, he said.

According to the Green Finance & Development Center, a think tank at Fudan University, cumulative investments in the Belt and Road Initiative exceeded $1 trillion this year, with more than 100 deals worth $43.3 billion signed in the first half of this year – a rate of 23.7 percent. year-on-year increase.

According to Son Ahmed Khan, a foreign policy analyst and researcher at Tsinghua University’s Belt and Road Strategy Institute, the US-led infrastructure plans were “retaliatory, divisive and motive-driven”, and their proposal would have a positive impact “lacks a precedent”.

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“The caveat for Washington is a limited track record of building advanced infrastructure both within the US and abroad,” Khan said, adding that the Belt and Road Plan, in contrast, had invested in traditional projects such as ports, roads, dams, etc. .railways and power stations.

“Given China’s growing stakes as a threat to US strategic influence in the region, the willingness of Middle Eastern countries to welcome China’s role in development, security and regional cooperation is being welcomed by policymakers in Washington is seen as a threat,” Khan said.

She said it was unlikely that China would be outbid as the main supplier of traditional infrastructure to developing countries.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice covering China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP Facebook page Tweet Pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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