Belt and Road envy dominates G20 summit

US imperialism’s latest attempt to counter Russia and China underlines the shifting balance of world forces.

Proletarian writers

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The USA has announced yet another grand plan to counter the rapid growth of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but past experience indicates that very little is likely to materialise beyond press releases about ‘digital green futures’ and expensive feasibility reports. Meanwhile, the Belt and Road continues to deliver real infrastructure and real development to countries where its construction is ongoing.

Proletarian writers

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With Russia not invited to the party and Xi Jinping declining the invitation, the once-mighty G20 circus that pitched up in Delhi from 9 to 13 September, whilst still pulling in the massed ranks of the world’s imperialist media and providing a platform for an endless parade of heads of state to strut their stuff, was this time around an unmistakably lacklustre affair.

Where once upon a time Uncle Sam, the undisputed ringmaster, would crack his whip and bring order out of chaos, now President Joe Biden finds it hard even to command the attention, let alone the respect, of his restive audience – or even to stay awake himself.

Whilst all the formal pomp of a G20 summit lingers on, its substance is visibly seeping away, reflecting the erosion of US hegemony and the unipolar world of which it has been for so long the mainstay. With the Brics alliance increasingly speaking as the legitimate voice and advocate of the developing world, all the G20 super-summit ballyhoo rings hollow.

In what was clearly intended to be the collective west’s riposte to the hugely successful Belt and Road Initiative pioneered by China, President Biden hoped to use the G20 platform to announce a grand plan of his own.

According to the Financial Times: “The plan was launched on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi on Saturday, through a memorandum of understanding agreed by leaders including US president Joe Biden, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, who all shook hands at the end of the event.

“The proposed corridor would stretch across the Arabian Sea from India to the United Arab Emirates, then cross Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel before linking up to Europe.” (US and EU back new India-Middle East transport corridor by James Politi et al, Financial Times, 9 September 2023)

Biden mumbled about the “endless opportunities” opening up for countries prepared to buy into this new wheeze, “making it far easier to trade [and] export clean energy”, and “lay cable that will connect communities” and promising the project would “contribute to a more stable and prosperous middle east”. For her part, European Union attack dog Ursula von der Leyen claimed that the project would be “a green and digital bridge across continents and civilisations”, speeding up the EU’s trade with India by 40 percent.

Before getting too excited about this development, however, it should be noted that many previous such US-backed ventures have come to grief, unable to reconcile the varying national interests and lacking the ability to plan ahead and unite around a set of common goals (unlike China, which is able to plan many years ahead). Over ten years have elapsed since the announcement of a plan to build 2,117km worth of rail track, aimed at linking all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Yet this project remains only half-built to this day.

So far, this latest scheme has not progressed much further than a photo-op handshake between Biden, Prime Minister Modi and Crown Prince bin Salman (aka MbS), with no cash up front and only a vague promise to report back within 60 days with an ‘action plan’.

India is a core member of Brics. Modi is perhaps hoping to ride two horses at the same time and is overly impressed by the dubious honour of presiding over India’s first-time opportunity to host the G20 summit – an honour that might be more impressive were the G20 itself less clearly on the verge of disintegration.

As for the Saudis, now fellow members of Brics along with such unlikely bedfellows as Iran, they have given evidence that the USA can no longer rely on either threats or inducements to dictate Riyadh’s foreign policy and trade choices.

Whilst the intention of Biden’s move may have been to unpick the Brics alliance, the end result just demonstrated the inability of the USA to do anything to counter the widening influence of China and Russia, whose absence from the summit was eloquent testimony to the political bankruptcy of the US-led G20. And by focusing on the issue of infrastructural development, Washington is effectively letting Brics set the agenda and inviting comparisons that do no favours to US imperialism.

US deputy national security adviser Jon Finer let the cat out of the bag when he asserted that Belt and Road’s funding was opaque and forced poorer nations into debt traps, by contrast with the USA’s proposed scheme, which he claims will be “high-standard” and not “coercive”. Finer added defensively: “We are not trying to impose anything on anyone,” an assertion which will be greeted by the exploited and oppressed toilers of Africa, Asia and Latin America with hollow laughter and bitter contempt.

The oppressed peoples of the world know only too well that it is monopoly capital that loots the world’s resources, superexploits the world’s workers and retards world development ­– not China or Russia. Which is ultimately why the anti-imperialist movement is finding its feet and the G20 is an empty shell.

The inclusion of the African Union into the G20 (making it in fact the G21) and the inability of the imperialists to force through acceptance of their talking points on Nato’s proxy war against Russia in Ukraine further highlighted the shift in the global balance of forces and the waning power of US imperialism’s once mighty diktat.

All references to Russia in relation to the war in Ukraine, which had featured heavily in the official statement issued from last year’s summit, were removed. Instead, the declaration, which Indian diplomats had worked hard to have accepted by all parties, used neutral language and existing United Nations formulations to state simply that states must “refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition” and that “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible”.

In a further snub to US bellicosity, the statement explicitly stated that the G20 “is not the platform to resolve geopolitical and security issues”, reminding participants that it is primarily an economic platform.