- The US president raised the idea of an infrastructure programme for democratic states while speaking to the British prime minister
- The leaders also discussed climate change, the Iran nuclear deal and China’s retaliation against Western sanctions over Xinjiang
US President Joe Biden said he suggested to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a phone call on Friday that democratic countries should have an infrastructure plan to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
“I suggested we should have, essentially, a similar initiative, pulling from the democratic states, helping those communities around the world that, in fact, need help,” Biden told reporters.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping involving development and investment initiatives that would stretch from East Asia to Europe.
The project would significantly expand China’s economic and political influence, raising concerns in the United States and elsewhere.
Biden’s remarks came after he said on Thursday he would prevent China from passing the US to become the most powerful country in the world, vowing to invest heavily to ensure America prevails in the ever-growing rivalry between the world’s two largest economies.
Biden plans to unveil a multi-trillion-dollar plan to upgrade US infrastructure next week. He said on Thursday this would ensure increased US investment in promising new technologies, such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence and biotechnology.
While airing its concerns and seeking to encourage private sector-investment for overseas projects to rival those of the belt and road plan, Washington has yet to be able to convince countries that it can offer an alternative to the state-backed economic vision put forward by Beijing.
Over 100 countries have signed agreements with China to cooperate in belt and road projects like railways, ports, highways and other infrastructure. According to a Refinitiv database, as of mid-last year, over 2,600 projects at a cost of US$3.7 trillion were linked to the initiative.
However, China said last year that about 20 per cent of belt and road projects had been “seriously affected” by the coronavirus pandemic.
There are also been resistance against the scheme from countries that have criticised projects as costly and unnecessary. Beijing scaled back some plans after several countries sought to review, cancel or scale down commitments, citing concerns over costs, erosion of sovereignty, and corruption.
During the Friday call, the US and British leaders also expressed concern about the Chinese response to the imposition of sanctions on its officials, and saying Iran had to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal.
On Monday, the United States and Britain together with the European Union and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the first such coordinated action since Biden became president.
China has responded by imposing sanctions itself on nine Britons, including lawmakers from Johnson’s Conservative Party, along with EU lawmakers and other European institutes.
“The prime minister and president reflected on the significant action taken by the UK, US and other international partners earlier this week to impose sanctions on human rights violators in Xinjiang and expressed their concern about retaliatory taken action by China,” a spokesman for Johnson said in a statement after the leaders spoke on Friday.
The statement said Biden and Johnson had also agreed there was a need for “Iran to come back into compliance with the nuclear deal” and they shared views on climate change.
“The prime minister and president agreed that combating climate change will be a crucial component of building back better from the pandemic,” the spokesman added.
“They shared their goals for the President’s Climate Change Summit in April and the UK-hosted COP26 Summit in November, including the need to address climate change and preserve biodiversity in tandem.”