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Opinion
Michael Schuman

How Biden Can Take On China With a Better Belt and Road

The G-7 initiative to counter Beijing’s infrastructure diplomacy can’t end up as a bridge to nowhere. Here’s what it should look like.

All aboard a Chinese-built-and-operated passenger train between Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya.

All aboard a Chinese-built-and-operated passenger train between Nairobi and Mombasa, Kenya.

Photographer: Patrick Meinhardt/Bloomberg

There’s good reason to be skeptical about U.S. President Joe Biden’s plan for an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the infrastructure-building bonanza that Beijing uses to expand its global clout. Sure, the Group of Seven nations committed to the idea last month, calling it “Build Back Better World,” or B3W. But that’s no more than a start. Success will require a focused program outlining what to build, how to pay for it, and how to convince needy nations to sign up.

Unfortunately, such details are in short supply. Fiscally stretched by Covid-19 outlays, the advanced economies can barely afford needed infrastructure at home, let alone splurge on roads, bridges and telecom networks in the far corners of the earth. Even the Chinese have been scaling back lending to developing countries in recent years, possibly a result of deleveraging pressure at home and too many troubled loans abroad. It’s tempting for the West to hope that Belt and Road runs out of highway entirely on its own.