After G7 Pledge, EU Seeks to Rival China’s ‘Belt and Road’ With Own Infrastructure Plan

By Reuters
Reuters
Reuters
July 12, 2021 Updated: July 12, 2021

BRUSSELS—European Union foreign ministers agreed on July 12 to launch a global infrastructure plan linking Europe to the world; a next step after deals with India and Japan and a similar pledge by the Group of Seven richest democracies.

Suspicious of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative to link Europe to Asia via infrastructure in a bid for greater influence, the EU set out a formal path for an ambitious “connectivity” plan starting in 2022.

“We see China using economic and financial means to increase its political influence everywhere in the world. It’s useless moaning about this; we must offer alternatives,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters at a meeting with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

“It is important that the European Union … coordinates them very closely with the United States,” he said.

The EU has already signed partnerships with Japan and India to coordinate transport, energy, and digital projects linking Europe and Asia. Both Tokyo and Delhi are worried about Chinese largesse that officials say makes poorer countries beholden to Beijing because they’re forced to take on large debts.

Through development banks, first-loss guarantees to private companies, and by offering Western government know-how, the G7, whose leaders met in England in June, also want to provide more transparency in infrastructure partnerships.

Montenegro, a member of the NATO military alliance and an aspirant to join the EU, is the highest-profile casualty of Chinese debt, Western officials say.

Montenegro borrowed nearly $1 billion from China in 2014 to fund a 25-mile stretch of road, an amount that threatens to bankrupt the country. It is now negotiating with Western banks to swap or refinance the debt, Reuters reported this month.

The EU strategy, called “A Globally Connected Europe,” makes no mention of China. Luxembourg’s veteran Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn cautioned today about making China an adversary, noting that, every year, German carmakers sell more vehicles in China than in Germany.

But one EU diplomat involved in drafting the strategy said the eight-page document had “China written all over it.”

Since 2013, China has launched construction projects across more than 60 countries, seeking a network of land and sea links with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Beijing denies any intention to project power and has said the infrastructure corridor focuses on the needs of ordinary people.

By Robin Emmott & Sabine Siebold

Reuters
Reuters