The United States says it will be a lead partner in a new global, climate-friendly infrastructure program with its Group of 7 partners, part of President Joe Biden’s larger efforts at the G7 summit to better position the US and its allies to compete with China in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
Confronting China’s authoritarianism, however, emerged as a source of contention between the leaders.
The White House said the program, presented as an alternative to China’s own global infrastructure initiative, will “help narrow the $40+ trillion infrastructure need in the developing world, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A senior administration official described the plan, called the “Build Back Better World” initiative, as a “bold, new global infrastructure initiative with our G7 partners that will be values-driven, transparent and sustainable” and will compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The G7 will announce “a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards, and our way of doing business,” a second senior official said.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative, first announced in 2013 under Chinese President Xi Jinping, aims to build ports, roads and railways to create new trade corridors linking China to Africa and the rest of Eurasia. The Chinese-funded, cross-continental infrastructure initiative has been seen as an extension of the country’s sharp ascent to global power.
As part of the new infrastructure announcement, the US said the Group of 7 will be joining partners and the private sector in “collectively catalyzing hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment for low and middle-income countries that need it.”
While the investment is meant to counter the infrastructure gap in lower and middle income countries, officials suggested this initiative will be in the ballpark of “hundreds of billions of dollars,” but did not provide a more specific number or any tangible information on how much each nation would be contributing.
The money will come from US governmental finance groups, unspecified entities from the private sector, as well as the G7 countries, but it was not immediately clear how much each was expected to pitch in.
Officials described the global infrastructure pitch not as a confrontation with China, but as an alternative path.
“This is not about making countries choose between us and China. This is about offering an affirmative, alternative vision and approach that they would want to choose,” the first administration official said.
And in the coming days when Biden travels to the NATO summit in Brussels, NATO countries will be “addressing the security challenge from China directly in a communique” for the first time, per the first senior official.
A second piece of Saturday’s session, the officials announced, is aimed at targeting China’s forced labor practices.
Biden, the second official said, will be “pressing his fellow leaders for concrete action on forced labor, to make clear to the world that we believe these practiced are an affront to human dignity and an egregious example of China’s unfair economic competition.”
The administration is advocating for China to be specifically named in the final G7 communiqué, though it was unclear if it will ultimately end up in the final agreement that will be released Sunday.
Throughout the G7 in Cornwall, England, this week, Biden has doubled down on initiatives aimed at reasserting US leadership on the world’s stage and confronting China.
While officials at the summit saw the infrastructure as an area of agreement during the summit, leaders aired serious differences over how best to approach China during a session on Saturday, according to a senior administration official.
The disagreements, aired during a session that at one point became so sensitive that all internet was shut off to the room, pitted European nations against the United States, Britain and Canada, who urged stronger action against China for its authoritarian practices, including forced labor practices in western Xinjiang province.
At one point, Biden made a forceful call to other leaders about vocally calling out China’s anti-democratic practices, officials said, emphasizing the need to take action.
Earlier this week, Biden announced the US would donate half a billion coronavirus vaccines globally in the G7’s larger push for the globe’s largest and wealthiest democracies to vaccinate the rest of the world.
Biden underscored during his vaccine announcement that there were no strings attached with accepting the US-bought vaccines. And the White House has said it has been concerned by efforts by Russia and China to use vaccines to make geopolitical gains.
In a joint statement on Thursday, Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they support further investigation into the origins of Covid-19, including in China.
However, Biden’s new call for a global infrastructure program funded by western, developed nations comes as the President faces challenges to stand up his own infrastructure program within the US.
Biden’s first major legislative priority — historic, sweeping relief amid the pandemic — was signed into law less than two months after he came into office. But the White House has yet to reach a deal with Congress on an infrastructure program, missing some of its own deadlines for progress.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.