US President Joe Biden took to the margins of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, to advance his vision for a green and collaborative global infrastructure initiative that he says will map out a “sustainable path to net zero emissions by 2050”. and also provide an alternative to the massive China Belt and Road initiative.

“Britain’s Build Back Better initiative, Britain’s Clean Green Initiative, Global Gateway and Clean Green initiatives are all part of a joint effort by G-7 partners to provide high-quality sustainable infrastructure,” said Biden at a panel discussion. event in Glasgow, Scotland.

He and more than 100 other world leaders have signed climate pacts to help keep global warming below 1.5 ° C.

Biden launched his Build Back Better World, or B3W, plan at the G-7 summit in June, with the aim of creating “a values-driven, high-quality and transparent infrastructure partnership” to help fund projects in developing countries.

FILE – Motorists drive along Mombasa Road, next to the ongoing Nairobi Highway construction site being undertaken by Chinese contractor China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), in Nairobi, Kenya, July 12, 2021 .

This makes it an obvious alternative to the Beijing Belt and Road Initiative, worth several trillions of dollars. This international development program has funded infrastructure projects in Asia, Africa and Latin America and made inroads in Europe.

“There is an urgent need for infrastructure development in countries – infrastructure that prioritizes, when you build it – it prioritizes tackling climate change from the moment the shovel enters the ground. and kick start green economic growth, ”Biden said.

The foundations of the American initiative have already begun. Officials led by U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh are in Ghana and Senegal this week to research infrastructure projects. The “listening session” tour followed a similar trip to Latin America in September, where Singh led an interagency delegation to Colombia, Ecuador and Panama. Several other tours in different regions are planned.

“The president’s vision for B3W is to work with partners who share our democratic values ​​to finance and develop infrastructure in a manner that is transparent, sustainable, meets high standards and catalyzes the private sector wherever possible,” said the White House said in a statement. declaration.

U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh speaks at a press conference as the final stop on his three-country tour of Latin America to promote a G7 infrastructure program to counter the Chinese initiative

U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Daleep Singh speaks at a press conference as the final stop on his three-country tour of Latin America to promote a G7 infrastructure program to counter the Chinese initiative “Belt and Road” in Panama City, Panama, September 30, 2021.

But this expensive international venture could run into internal difficulties. Biden’s national Build Back Better initiative has met resistance from members of his own Democratic Party, as proposed legislation has been significantly curtailed in recent weeks.

The administration has insisted that the American public wants the services offered in the multibillion-dollar infrastructure and spending plans and that Congress is withholding approval.

“They want us to get things done,” Biden said. “And that is why I continue to press very hard for the Democratic Party to move forward and pass my infrastructure bill and my Build Back Better bill.”

Thin on details

An official B3W launch event in the United States is slated for early next year and will include details of some initial plans to cut the $ 40 trillion needed by developing countries by 2035. But it doesn’t It’s still not clear whether B3W can emerge as a viable alternative to the huge BRI.

“We don’t have a good idea of ​​how much money the United States will spend on this, or how much cooperation from other countries,” said Zack Cooper, senior researcher at the American Enterprise Institute. “And we don’t have any details on the timelines either.”

A White House official admitted the plan had a long way to go.

“We are just getting started, when BRI has been around for years and years,” the official told VOA.

As U.S. officials embark on their B3W tour, countries will seek proof that the United States offers a healthier alternative to the BRI, which has been tarnished by negative environmental and social impacts, a lack of transparency and corruption, and has been criticized for leaving governments around the world strangled by debt.

World leaders attend meeting on "Rebuilding a better world" initiative at the UN climate summit COP26, on November 2, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland.

World leaders attend a meeting on the ‘Build Back Better World’ initiative at the UN Climate Summit COP26, November 2, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland.

But it is clear that some countries wish to have options beyond what China can offer. Also at the Glasgow summit, South Africa’s largest coal producer signed an $ 8.5 billion deal with the United States, the European Union and other European countries to install cleaner energy alternatives and help workers who may be affected by the abandonment of coal.

In some cases, however, the BIS is welcome.

Chinese investments are particularly attractive to countries with weak human rights records and high levels of corruption precisely because their terms are more flexible and less constrained by regulations, said Lucas Myers, program coordinator for the Southeast Asia in the Wilson Center Asia Program.

The challenge for Washington is to walk a tightrope to ensure flexibility and profitability while meeting stricter fiscal, human rights and environmental standards, he said.

And while the administration may not be able to compete on scale with the BIS at this point, it appears they are aiming for investments in areas where Beijing has struggled.

“Each of the four pillars of B3W – climate, health, digital and gender – are areas where the United States and its G-7 partners have comparative advantages,” said Jonathan E. Hillman, senior researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Economic Studies Program.

Analysts also say that over time, the B3W may also be able to match the financial firepower of the BIS – if the administration can mobilize funding from the private sector. BIS cost estimates vary widely, ranging from $ 1,000 billion to $ 8 trillion.

“If the United States and its partners can leverage investment from pension funds, life insurance companies, and other institutional investors, B3W could be much larger than China’s BIS,” Hillman said. He added that while it will take time to prepare bankable projects, efforts like the Blue Dot Network, a mechanism of the US State Department to certify that infrastructure projects meet strict international quality standards, could make it easier for private sector investors.

The hope is that as the number of successful projects increases, more countries will be drawn to the initiative, Hillman said. And the impact could be exponentially greater if Washington could coordinate with other like-minded development programs.

“Japan, one of the members of the G-7, is in fact the biggest investor of FDI [foreign direct investment] in the region, with extensive experience and networks across Southeast Asia, ”Myers said, adding that the United States can benefit from Tokyo’s expertise and connections.

The key is to provide compelling vision, compelling benefits, and practical incentives, Hillman said.

This is exactly what the administration plans to do. As the United States and its partners begin to develop and implement the plan, “strong and meaningful partnerships will be essential,” the official told VOA.

“Debt Trap Diplomacy”

While the United States has a long history of helping other countries build their infrastructure, including rebuilding post-war Western Europe under the Marshall Plan, the Trump administration was the first to condemn the strategy. of China’s international investment.

In a 2018 speech, former Vice President Mike Pence accused Chinese leader Xi Jinping of expanding his influence through “debt trap diplomacy.”

“Today this country provides hundreds of billions of dollars in infrastructure loans to governments in Asia, Africa, Europe and even Latin America,” Pence said. “Yet the terms of these loans are opaque at best, and the benefits massively flow to Beijing. “

During his trip to Asia in 2018, Pence highlighted what was then America’s leading alternative – the US International Development Finance Corporation, a new agency with a $ 60 billion portfolio to support private investment in infrastructure projects around the world.

So far, the agency has not proven to be a viable alternative for the BRI, with DFC currently claiming to have 57 global projects underway with a total value of around $ 2.5 billion. Perhaps this is because the initiative has been used as a tool to achieve Trump’s short-term geopolitical goal, including in the Middle East. Investments have been proposed to encourage countries to sign the Abrahamic Accord, Trump’s landmark deal to secure diplomatic recognition of Israel.

(VOA’s Anita Powell contributed to this story.)