Understanding BRI vs. B3W competition | By Wali Ejaz Nekokara


Understanding BRI vs. B3W competition

CHINA’S Belt and Road Initiative was launched by Chinese President XI Jinping in 2013. It was aimed at greater regional connectivity and economic progress.

Till January 2021, almost 139 countries joined the BRI including some of the USA’s partners such as Turkey, Greece, Saudi Arabia and Italy. Similarly, 40 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are also part of BRI along with others.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, 40pc of global GDP is made up of BRI countries. Furthermore, these member countries account for 63pc of the world’s population. BRI mainly focuses on ‘hard infrastructure’ such as building roads, ports, power plants, establishing 5G networks and railways.

A few years ago, an American multinational investment bank and financial services company Morgan Stanley estimated that by 2027, China will spend more than 1.2 trillion dollars on BRI member countries.

Another important thing to mention is that Pandemic will harm BRI’s pace. Last year, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Covid-19 pandemic had affected the progress of 30 to 40pc BRI projects whereas 20pc got affected seriously.

On the other hand, a nascent initiative B3W was launched by the G7. This initiative is designed to use private sector capital in the areas of health security, gender equality and equity, climate as well as digital technology.

B3W is also defined as a transparent, values-driven, and high-standard initiative aimed at shrinking the $40 trillion infrastructure gap in developing countries. Western leaders take two points as a stick to beat China with. Firstly, they claim that Chinese infrastructure is of low quality.

Secondly, they lambaste China’s ‘Debt trap diplomacy. When recipient countries become unable to repay loans it automatically makes them easy prey to Chinese diplomacy. Some of the unavoidable victims of this China’s diplomacy are African governments such as Ethiopia, Zambia, Congo and Sudan.

A question regarding B3W is what prompted G7 to undertake the B3W initiative? The simple answer is China’s sprawling influence and its economic expansion.

We have witnessed various containment plans before B3W such as Blue Dot Network, QII (Quality infrastructure Investment Partnership) and EU connectivity Plan. These plans failed to achieve their objectives.

Other strategies like QUAD, Asia Pivot Policy and the Pacific-Asia partnership were more of a political tool than an economic one. Many experts think that B3W is a late-comer. At this stage when BRI has successfully extended its tentacles to significant regions and areas, containing China will be a pipe-dream.

According to the Council of Foreign Relations, despite BRI shows some serious governance and financial concerns, but still B3W will not be able to pose any serious geopolitical challenge to BRI.

Regardless of whether B3W achieves its goals or not, it can contribute to the world under the B3W initiative to make the earth a better place.

Furthermore, an economist Dr. Pradumna B. Rana highlights some important challenges to B3W in his commentary “G7’s ‘Build Back Better World’: Rival to BRI? The first challenge is the absence of a sense of common goal and commitment.

All the USA’s allies do not have the same enthusiasm towards B3W. Most importantly, Italy and Germany are economic partners of China. I believe that a waning sense of common goal leaves an organization or project less effective, for instance, the OIC.

So, all the B3W members do not take China as an arch-rival as the US takes. It will result in a lacklustre performance. Secondly, B3W revolves around the private sector. Private sector projects can hardly compete with the State-owned projects in pace and funding.

In my opinion, state-owned projects work more meticulously. In the context of China, State-owned projects are perceived as a plank of China’s strategy to be a dominant economic power.

The monitoring of projects and leading them under the desired strategy is more possible in state-owned policies.

Thirdly, China enjoys a comparatively advantageous position in terms of infrastructure development. It has the advantage of cost control, cheap labour and material against G7.

A comparative analysis of BRI and B3W underscores some important lessons. Firstly, the US as a rival will hardly be able to contain China especially in countries where China has already entrenched its position.

B3W is undoubtedly a late-comer and it will be impossible to roll back China’s investment. If B3W adopts concrete policies, it will take a long time to expand. Secondly, In terms of co-existence, BRI and B3W can make a massive difference.

BRI (through hard Infrastructure) and B3W (through soft infrastructure) can make the earth a better place to live in but political aims can be a predicament.

The USA is less concerned about human development; more concerned about countering China. B3W is a political tool and co-existence is hardly possible.

Thirdly, the different priorities of B3W members give credence to its ineffectiveness. In comparison to B3W, BRI is more focused and pragmatic. China initiated BRI and there is the little issue of consultation with other countries.

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