WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden has suggested founding an initiative from “democratic” countries to rival China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure initiative as tensions spike between the Asian power and Western nations.
Biden said late on Friday that he floated the proposal in a call with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson amid a row over sanctions against abuses targeting the Uighur minority in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
“I suggested we should have, essentially, a similar initiative coming from the democratic states, helping those communities around the world that, in fact, need help,” Biden told reporters, referring to Belt and Road.
Beijing’s influence has grown in some nations in recent years through loans and projects under the initiative, raising concerns among regional powers and Western nations.
China has helped scores of countries build or develop roads, railways, dams and ports.
President Xi Jingping has promised to “pursue open, green and clean co-operation” under Belt and Road, yet Chinese banks have continued to finance coal projects as Beijing uses the initiative to make an overseas coal play.
Between 2000 and 2018, 23.1 percent of the $251 billion invested by China’s two biggest policy banks on overseas energy projects was spent on coal projects, according to Boston University’s database on China’s global energy financing.
London, in its readout of the call between Biden and Johnson, did not mention the US president’s proposal for a Western response to Belt and Road, but did note that the two leaders discussed “significant action” to impose sanctions on “human rights violators” in Xinjiang.
The European Union, Britain, Canada and the United States sanctioned several members of Xinjiang’s political and economic hierarchy this week in coordinated action over the rights allegations, prompting retaliation from Beijing in the form of sanctions on individuals from the EU and UK.
Beijing, which insists the situation in Xinjiang is an “internal affair,” announced sanctions on Friday against nine British individuals and four entities, saying they had “maliciously spread lies and disinformation” over the treatment of the Uighurs.
At least one million Uighurs and people from other mostly Muslim groups have been held in camps in Xinjiang, according to rights groups, who accuse authorities of forcibly sterilising women and imposing forced labor.