The Timaru Herald
G7: West’s soft diplomacy plan to challenge China
Britain and America vowed to challenge China’s growing dominance on the world stage yesterday as UK prime minister Boris Johnson declared: ‘‘The West is back.’’
The heads of the world’s leading democracies announced a global infrastructure plan to give developing countries an alternative to doing business with the autocratic regime in Beijing. Under the ‘‘build back better for the world’’ plan, the richest democracies will offer financing for infrastructure, from railways in Africa to wind farms in Asia. The approach is intended to give developing countries faster access to money and ‘‘turbocharge green growth’’, accelerating a global shift to renewable energy.
The World Health Organisation also used the summit to pile pressure on China over claims that the coronavirus emerged from a laboratory in Wuhan. Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, its director-general, said that 3.75 million people had died worldwide. ‘‘We need transparency. The respect those people deserve is knowing what the origin of the virus is.’’
The infrastructure scheme is being billed as a rival to the Belt and Road initiative launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013 to spread China’s influence. More than 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate on projects such as railways, ports and roads. Critics say that the deals often involve Beijing lending money that borrowers cannot afford to repay, giving China part-ownership of strategic assets in Asia and Africa. Other projects have led to claims of environmental damage and poor safety standards have led to the deaths of workers.
The new plan has been dubbed ‘‘greenbelt and road’’ in Downing Street.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: ‘‘We have a responsibility to help developing countries reap the benefits of clean growth through a fair and transparent system. The G7 has an unprecedented opportunity to drive a global green industrial revolution, with the potential to transform the way we live.’’
His spokesman said that the plan was ‘‘designed to ensure developing countries have a choice in finding support from fairminded countries in line with democratic principles’’. An American official said that the West had previously failed to offer a positive alternative to the ‘‘coercive approach’’ of Beijing. ‘‘This is not just about confronting or taking on China,’’ the official said. ‘‘Until now we haven’t offered a positive alternative that reflects our values, our standards, and our way of doing business.’’
In March President Joe Biden and Johnson discussed developing an infrastructure scheme to rival China’s. Biden has also pushed for a tougher line on China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority.
World leaders used a summit session on foreign policy to agree a joint position on how to combat both China and Russia.
White House staff said the US would push the other G7 leaders for ‘‘concrete action on forced labour’’ in China and to include criticism of Beijing in their final communique. But draft versions were said to be ‘‘tepid’’ after France, Germany, Japan and Italy resisted.
Johnson also launched the UK’s Blue Planet Fund from the G7 summit’s ocean-side setting in Cornwall. The £500 million (NZ$990 million) fund will support countries including Ghana, Indonesia and Pacific island states to help tackle unsustainable fishing, reduce marine pollution and protect and restore coastal ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs.
– Sunday Times