The US and China are the two of the greatest powers that have tremendous politico-diplomatic, economic influence, and strategic outreach in the international arena. Their bilateral relations were quite complex till the 70s and 80s due to various factors. Among these, the most important factor was that both the countries were part of two opposing blocs of the then bi-polar world.
Then in the subsequent years, both the countries came closer to each other, especially in the post-cold war era. Ultimately both the countries enhanced their trade relations and then there was a time when their bilateral trade was considerably enhanced. However, during the last few years specifically, the relationship between the US and China has deteriorated more than ever before.
There are various determinants of the world’s most crucial great power relations. These include; economic interdependence of the US on China, their strategic interests in the pacific region, and most important is the ever-increasing rivalry to expand their influence in almost every part of the world.
This has resulted in an increase in mutual inclination of threat perception vis-à-vis the other side; based on which both the countries regard each other as the potential adversary. In this regard, both countries have been involved in a strategic competition against each other in various forms and dimensions.
There is a dominant viewpoint within the discourse surrounding the international community that the US and China are now in a de-facto cold war of which economic confrontation is an important component, whereas many on the other argue that the notion of a new cold war is out of the question.
However, they are in tough geo-strategic competition. Regardless of both perceptions, it is quite comprehensible that the bilateral relations of both countries have become more problematic and troubled than ever before.
The B3W project
The recent meeting of G-7 countries that was held last month from 11th to 13th June 2021 in Carbis Bay England has created considerable hype vis-à-vis the international discourse surrounding the great power politics. The US came up with an ambitious and what is known as a new model of its economic imperialism.
The B3W (Build Back Better World) project proposed by the US is referred to as an initiative that is supposed to compete with the Chinese BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) announced back in 2013.
Since the official figures of this proposed initiative are not publicly available as of now, however, as per the media reports, the US would help the developing countries with the provision of an estimated amount of above 40 trillion dollars in terms of investment. This would be utilized by the developing countries till the year 2035.
The major bulk of the US investment would be allocated to the projects related to healthcare, technology, infrastructure, non-traditional security issues like climate change and gender issues.
Specifically against the backdrop of the US-China ever-increasing tensions and the notions of a great power rivalry, now the announcement of B3W by the US is quite significant. With this, the strategic competition between the US and China would likely reach a new height probably in the years to come.
China’s bid for economic integration
To further analyze, a very important dimension of this strategic competition which now appears as a preference of both the US and China is their focus on economic integration by offering socio-economic incentives to their respective allies and also to the relatively poor third world countries.
For instance, China announced its model of economic integration in the form of BRI a few years ago. Under this initiative, various projects worth trillions of dollars have already been implemented by China.
These include a vast network of interconnected economic corridors passing through Asia, Europe, and Africa along with mega infrastructure, energy, communications, and social projects to boost up Chinese trade with the rest of the world. This is also aimed at the revival of the ancient silk route of trade.
The US and its allies perceive BRI as a Chinese attempt to expand its economic foothold in the rest of the world. The US also propagates it as a Chinese debt trap that would make the majority of the third world countries economically dependent on the latter in the longer term.
China however rejects this propaganda and asserts that the BRI initiative is purely a project of economic integration that would benefit each of the involved countries in the longer term.
Read more: Why China’s BRI not a Debt Trap
US attempt to defame China’s BRI project
Having said that, the recently announced B3W project by the US can also be analyzed in the same context. Specifically, when the focus is on investment in socio-economic development projects like for instance health care, technology, and infrastructure, etc., the intentions of the US can be easily analyzed to an extent even though there is no clear timeline of implementation.
Moreover, the name ‘Build Back Better World’ itself appears as a deliberate attempt to defame Chinese BRI as a project and that the B3W would bring back a better world. This further implies that the US wasn’t comfortable with the economic rise of China.
Deeply concerned by this, the US has opted for the economic integration model yet with a discriminatory approach by labeling Chinese BRI as a debt trap and terming B3W as a return to a better world.
So, all in all, the US and China are evidently involved in a strategic competition where the US feels threatened by the Chinese economic rise. In this regard, the US, after seemingly losing some of the key military campaigns in recent decades as part of its superpower projection is now inclined towards the economic model of power projection to revamp its economic imperialism which was once its core element to engage with the rest of the world.
Last but not the least, whether the B3W and the BRI both are debt traps for the poor countries would remain debatable. However, it appears quite obvious that the launch of B3W would likely emerge as a new height in the US-China strategic competition in the years to come.
The writer currently works as a Research Associate at the Strategic Vision Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan. He holds a post-graduate degree in International Relations from National Defence University (NDU) Islamabad, Pakistan. He frequently writes on issues related to regional and international security. He can be reached at @HarisMalik00.The views expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.