Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative of the group of seven richest democracies, known as G-7, to help developing countries on a host of issues ranging from climate change to vaccine deployment and trade and infrastructure is by no means a direct challenge to President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) but it does convey to China that its policy of aggression, expansionism and oppression would be countered.
The angry retort from Beijing is a clear signal that the Dragon has become a little uncomfortable, more so because evidence has come to appear in the public domain that the entire BRI is based on forced labour.
China Labor Watch did the reality check with its latest report (titled “Silent Victims of Labor Trafficking: China’s Belt and Road workers stranded overseas amid Covid-19 pandemic”) prepared by speaking to a large number of Chinese BRI workers in Indonesia, Algeria, Singapore, Jordan, Pakistan and Serbia.
No surprise, the Chinese spokesperson has sought to dismiss G-7 as inconsequential, saying that the days when a ‘small group of nations’ exerted influence over the whole world are over. This is not very different from the petulant reaction on Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) comprising US, Australia, Japan and India, calling it a ‘small clique’ that wants to gang up against China.
Ever since President Xi emerged as the paramount leader nine years ago, China’s arrogance over its military and economic clout has much of the world worried. Even the countries that have benefitted from its Yuan ‘generosity’ from Asia to Africa. Yet there is no stopping as yet of China’s long march. Despite all the criticism it receives from the ‘democratic’ world, its trade with almost all the free nations has continued to grow.
It places more than plentiful of dollars in the Chinese hands and, hence, facilitates
China buying friends across continents.
But sooner or later China might discover that ‘small’ groups of nations and ‘cliques’ can come in its way of achieving global hegemony. The big plus for the G-7 nations is their soft and friendly image that China doesn’t have.
China has serious issues with all its neighbours; it makes no bones about pursuing an
expansionist policy whether in the Himalayas or the South China Sea.
The recent surge in right wing politics in the democratic world has caused anxieties but it is nothing like the brutal oppression let loose by China in its far western Uighur Muslim belt and Buddhist Tibet.
Hong Kong is witnessing ruthless suppression of democracy movement in full media glare these days.
The negative image that such developments project does not seem to bother China much. Th expression of concern remains largely confined to countries in the West. The huge African continent does not show the same extent of distress as the US or West Europe.
China has been pumping money into the African continent and many Asian countries in dire need of good infrastructure. For it, money has no colour. Democracy and dissent are an anathema at home and abroad.
Put simply, China does not care much whether an African/Asian country is run democratically or is ruled by a tyrant as long as the host offers unquestioned hospitality, space for Chinese labour enclaves including.
The nations, who have welcomed the Chinese with open arms, have not exactly shut doors on the West.
Nor are they likely to do so because the West too has shed to some extent its earlier habit of hectoring excessively on values like freedom and democracy.
Take the case of Pakistan. It was the first to embrace BRI and launch the multi-billion-dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which has since become its albatross. It is knocking at the doors of the U.S., with its plea for IMF safety-net and FATF bailout though. And is offering ‘good behaviour’ on Afghan theatre as an extra bait.
In the same boat are Sri Lanka and Myanmar, both much smaller and weaker than Pakistan, and even Malaysia as they find themselves entrapped by China in debt and other obligations.
China has been in the business of wooing the world for some years now but it is yet to become the magnet that most Western countries have become. Its immigration controls are not as stringent in the West though. ‘Boat people’ is not something one hears in relation to China.
As long as the West particularly the U.S., remains the El Dorado for the youth of the world, Chinese including, Beijing will not find it easy to dislodge the West from the psyche of the Third World. And to its discomfiture, China will have to share space with the ‘enemy’ in the poor countries, which, it sees as its clients.
To cut to the B3W initiative, it may not see acceleration at least in the short run as China’s BRI has already tied up nearly 3000 projects. Yet, if the G 7 nations are determined to go ahead, they might discover that the competition with China to win the hearts and minds of the developing countries is not all that tough.
Well, to the dismay of President Xi and his trusted apparatchiks.