Time to choose: The US’ Build Back Better or China’s Belt and Road?

China Port (Ruba)
View of China-Kazakhstan Logistic Base in Lianyungang, Jiangsu Province, China on September 17, 2021. It is widely recognized as a sample of collaboration between the Belt and Road countries. (Photo: AFP)
It seems our Jordanian Cabinet has no inkling of what is going on in the world. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have Cabinet ministers talking to China about bringing its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to Jordan, the very same month US officials started scouting development in low-to-mid income countries under the US’ newly-announced Build Back Better World (B3W) program, poised to counter China’s infrastructure agenda worldwide.اضافة اعلان

The B3W, a subcomponent of the larger trillion-dollar “Build Back Better” infrastructure agenda (to be put up for a vote in US Congress by end of October), was first announced in June at the G7. Ambitious and strong on strategy, it is designed to offer world nations and allies, like Jordan, a “higher quality” alternative to China’s controversial BRI infrastructure project.

With tensions rising rapidly between the US and China, the B3W is another part of the Biden administration’s strategy to reshape the US’ foreign policy in a way that reasserts its long-term security, economic, and geopolitical interests around the world.

In September alone, the White House has made serious strategic moves to rebuild alliances in the Indo-Pacific to minimize Chinese intimidation in the area. Its two main initiatives in this regard are: The Quad alliance (which includes Australia, India, Japan, and the US), and the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal (Australia, the UK, and the US).

From war games with Taiwan, to commissioning an investigation aimed at uncovering Chinese influence at the World Bank, the US is sparing no dimension where there is Chinese influence, giving it a surprisingly sharp counter-strategy treatment (compared to almost nonexistent strategic thinking throughout the last administration).

This seems to have prompted the Chinese Communist Party to clean house and wage an internal war on capitalism and capitalist lifestyles that pose an existential threat to its basic ideology of autocracy. Recent reports say Chinese “influencers” who promote Western ideals have been wiped clean off of the internet with no trace to be found of them, or their brand-names, in Chinese search results. More reports have also shown China has been rethinking its private sector, in a push towards de-privatization to reaffirm the country’s renewed stance towards a complete centralization of power.

As Jordanians, we are at a crossroads and we need to take these complex developments into account. Not only has Jordan been a key US ally in the war on terrorism, but the latest Royal visit to the US has also repositioned Jordan’s role in the region, bringing to the fore the two-state solution, the Hashemite custodianship of Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the need to reshape the region in a way that guarantees a life of dignity for all.

Add to this complex spectacle a new study published late September showing that “China’s ambitious foreign infrastructure push has saddled poor nations with ‘hidden debt’ worth $385 billion, and more than a third of the projects have been hit by alleged corruption scandals and protests,” according to AFP.

With all of this in mind, Jordan needs to make a sober decision about its future economic ties, especially that the USAID, the World Bank, and now (potentially) the B3W are all offering the Kingdom new prospects for development-based aid that can launch the country out of its fatigued state.

On September 28, news agencies reported that the US was moving quickly on its B3W agenda, with a pilot delegation of US officials on tour of Latin America to scout development projects to counter China’s predatory economic practices there. This tour could potentially expand to other regions, including the Middle East and North Africa.

On the very same day, Jordanian media published a press release about China donating a new batch of vaccines to Jordan, on the sidelines of a low-key virtual event attended by a number of Jordanian figures.

As it turns out, our minister of transport took part in the event where he “confirmed Jordan’s aspiration to benefit from China’s experience in the transport sector,” specifically in “railways, urban transport, and digital tracking in the transport sector.” To translate this into geopolitical terms, those are the same pillars in the BRI that China has been pushing for across the world, and which now fall under the US’ new B3W.

Two weeks earlier, a local newspaper also published a report saying the minister of public works and housing confirmed Jordan was about to launch the Salt-Aredah road expansion project, through a “generous” grant from the Chinese government. Another news outlet tells us this grant amounts to $31.5 million. This, too, sounds like an infrastructure project that falls under the BRI agenda — and potentially the B3W.

Considering there is a serious tug-of-war between the US and China, Jordan might need to rethink its infrastructure plans, to take into account its roadmap for the future, both politically and economically.

What is more than obvious at the moment is this lack of “consensus” in the government about our policy towards China. To be more accurate, it seems there is a lack of “discussion” in the Cabinet about Jordan’s relationship with China on all fronts — from accepting free vaccines to involving it in infrastructure projects.

It is as if the whole geopolitical war, now raging on so many levels from politics to economy and everything in between, has nothing to do with us. The fact is that, sooner or later, this indecisiveness will catch up with us and we will need to make choices and decisions that are aligned with this fast-moving reality!
This is also an invitation to upgrade our governmental thinking. Our Cabinet, regardless of the sitting prime minister or the ministers involved, seems to have a limited idea about the global trends that affects us.

Officials seem to be mostly fixated on internal affairs along with the few issues that Jordan has a historically defined stance on (like Jerusalem). But how about new developments? Who takes care of that?

This lack of awareness of the political price of “innocent” governmental actions can also be seen across non-political portfolios that act as if they live in a bubble of their own. The Ministry of Health, for instance, has accepted free vaccines from a country known for its anticompetitive and predatory economic behavior. Yet, this hasn’t stopped the ministry from going ahead with receiving the gift, because no one bothered factor in its economic and political “price”.

We can tie up these loose ends with a strategic planning unit that lends the Cabinet a bird’s-eye view, and the ability to draw up policy lines posed by fast-paced global challenges. A unit with capable analysts, strategists, and experts skilled at forming a nuanced understanding of everything from geopolitics, to specific angles relating to each and every governmental portfolio.

Jordan can build a well-oiled government that can link the dots, while taking precise strategic moves that are aligned with far-sighted policies. It is doable.

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