There is no doubt that the growing rivalry between China and the US is a risk for the world. Poorly managed, tensions can get out of hand. Mutual mistrust, inflamed rhetoric and the string of measures and countermeasures make the China-US relationship unstable and unpredictable.
It is less clear, however, whether and how the rivalry between Beijing and Washington can benefit the rest of the world and, in particular, developing countries. The last G7 meeting offered two interesting examples in this regard.
First, Covid-19 vaccines. G7 members have pledged to provide 1 billion doses to countries in need. In February, a similar idea had been raised —and promptly discarded. In recent months, it is true, vaccination in the United States, for example, has advanced enormously, which facilitates the decision to donate.
But it is also a fact that, during this period, China had practically an unobstructed path for its vaccine diplomacy and did not waste the opportunity. The advance of the Asian country put pressure on others to act.
Second, the G7 announced a plan to fund infrastructure projects in the developing world, as opposed to the Chinese Belt and Route Initiative. Named as bad as Beijing’s, the G7 initiative, dubbed B3W (Build Back Better World), will promote “value-based infrastructure” such as transparency, environmental protection and sustainable indebtedness.
If the details are yet to come, the logic is already clear. The US and others will not be able to contain Chinese investment in the world without offering recipient countries an alternative at least as attractive as that offered by China. Criticizing the Chinese plan empty-handed doesn’t work. Here is the origin of B3W.
Unwittingly, China ends up forcing the US — and other developed countries — to pay more attention to the developing world. It’s made the big ones move. Or would the G7 mobilize now to promote infrastructure in poor countries if it weren’t for the advance of Chinese investment?
Or would the US secretary of state call, as he did in March, the president of Paraguay if it weren’t for the fear that Asunción would raffle Taiwan and establish diplomatic relations with Beijing over vaccines?
Or would the US government refinance Ecuador’s debt to China, as it did in January, if the package did not contain a commitment to exclude Chinese companies from the country’s 5G?
Or would the president of the Inter-American Development Bank just happen to use the “China” argument when trying to convince the American establishment to strengthen the IDB?
It is not a question of judging the ends or means of US foreign policy, which, rightly or wrongly, sees China as a threat. The point is that China’s presence in the developing world forces Americans to reconsider previously neglected regions and countries.
If the US-China rivalry is inevitable, the question becomes, for other countries, how to avoid being harmed by it or, ideally, how to take advantage of the situation. If they are perceived to be in one or the other’s pocket, they will lose their bargaining power.
Maintaining autonomy in the face of the big ones and, above all, benefiting from the dispute is not trivial. Despite the risks, competition between China and the US can generate positive externalities for those who know how to take advantage.
LINK PRESENT: Did you like this column? Subscriber can release five free hits of any link per day. Just click on the blue F below.