The European Union announced on Sept. 15 that it’s introducing a new investment program called “Global Gateway” to rival China’s controversial development program, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has saddled many poor nations with heavy debt loads.
“We are good at financing roads. But it does not make sense for Europe to build a perfect road between a Chinese-owned copper mine and a Chinese-owned harbor,” she told lawmakers at the European Parliament.
“We have to get smarter when it comes to these kinds of investments.”
China has been ruled as a one-party state since the communist party came to power in 1949. Until the Trump administration began to challenge the regime for flouting international law and its widespread human rights abuses, the West, for 40-plus years, had been engaging with China in the hope that the communist regime would liberalize the country.
But the opposite has been achieved.
With the changing global tides, von der Leyen said the EU has refined its focus and wants to make investments in “quality infrastructure” on a “values-based approach, offering transparency and good governance” to other countries.
“We want to create links and not dependencies,” she added.
Her announcement came after the Group of Seven (G-7) leaders in June pledged to provide a “democratic alternative” to China’s BRI to address the infrastructure gap in poor countries, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Total infrastructure needs in developing countries will exceed $40 trillion by 2035, according to a White House fact sheet.
To narrow this infrastructure gap and counter Beijing’s growing influence around the world, leaders of the world’s seven richest nations launched a new initiative, called Build Back Better World, or B3W, to help finance bridges, ports, roads, and other infrastructure projects in developing countries.
Since its launch in 2013, China’s BRI, also known as One Belt, One Road, has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects across Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. In recent years, however, Beijing has been accused of using “debt-trap diplomacy” to lure many nations into its orbit.
Washington has repeatedly criticized the Chinese regime for expanding its geopolitical influence through predatory lending practices. BRI projects have raised the risk of economic distress in many borrower countries, including Sri Lanka, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan, because of unsustainable loan levels and opaque contracts.
“We want to turn Global Gateway into a trusted brand around the world,” von der Leyen said.
“If Europe is to become a more active global player, it also needs to focus on the next generation of partnerships,” she said, praising the new EU-Indo-Pacific strategy, which seeks to increase Europe’s influence in Asia. As part of the strategy, the bloc will form closer trade and investment relations with Taiwan, in response to the growing threat posed by a communist China in the region.
Von der Leyen also criticized Beijing’s forced labor practices and human rights abuses, without directly naming China.
“There are 25 million people out there, who are threatened or coerced into forced labor. We can never accept that they are forced to make products–and that these products then end up for sale in shops here in Europe,” she said.
China is considered the global hot spot for goods made with forced labor. U.S. and EU officials have repeatedly raised concerns over the use of forced labor in China, particularly in the Xinjiang region.
“So, we will propose a ban on products in our market that have been made by forced labor. Because human rights are not for sale—at any price,” von der Leyen said.