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Biden Plans Belt and Road Competitor at COP26

The U.S. president gathers his G-7 counterparts in Glasgow, Scotland, to move the “Build Back Better World” initiative forward.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden presents his national statement at COP26.
U.S. President Joe Biden presents his national statement at COP26.
U.S. President Joe Biden presents his national statement during day two of the U.N. climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 1. Andy Buchanan/Pool/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden hosts a Build Back Better World session at COP26, India pledges net zero emissions by 2070, and the European Union intervenes in U.K.-France fishing dispute.

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Biden Gathers G-7 For Infrastructure Bid

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. President Joe Biden hosts a Build Back Better World session at COP26, India pledges net zero emissions by 2070, and the European Union intervenes in U.K.-France fishing dispute.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Biden Gathers G-7 For Infrastructure Bid

As the U.N. climate conference leaders summit enters its final day, U.S. President Joe Biden will pull his G-7 counterparts aside to talk through a green-tinged international infrastructure initiative: Build Back Better World or B3W.

The strategy emerged during the G-7 summit this summer in Cornwall, England, with the goal of creating “a values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership” to help finance projects in developing countries.

Although the initiative went unmentioned in the initial White House announcement, the plan is designed to offer an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has been criticized for benefiting Chinese businesses while leaving local governments deeply in debt.

Despite the criticism, there is a reason why China’s funding has been attractive: When poorer countries look to build quickly, Chinese funding has often been the only game in town, with less red tape and fast turnaround sweetening the deal.

B3W plans to fill the estimated $40 trillion gap in infrastructure funding and has promised to embrace the green principles of the Paris Agreement at the same time. How G-7 countries will achieve that and encourage private sector participation is still an open question—and one that could come closer to an answer in today’s meeting.

As FP’s Keith Johnson wrote in an FP Deep Dive on B3W in October, the biggest question remaining is whether Western-led infrastructure initiatives “will be coordinated and coherent or competing and whether they will end up as a true alternative to China’s new Silk Road or just a complement.”

Indeed, following efforts begun by the Trump administration, the United States is already scouting its own projects. The International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), a U.S. agency with $60 billion to invest annually, has begun investing in Greek ports, and in late September, a U.S. delegation headed south to explore potential projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The blueprint? If the G-7 countries manage to come up with a plan, it may end up following the standard set in May, when the DFC; its British equivalent, the CDC Group; and Japan’s Sumitomo Corporation combined with Britain’s Vodafone to win the contract to build Ethiopia’s 5G network.

The DFC provided $500 million in financing toward the deal under the condition that Huawei equipment wouldn’t be used in the project. In a wrinkle that wouldn’t be found in a Chinese project, DFC funding is now in jeopardy amid U.S. concerns over the Ethiopian government’s actions in Tigray.

National concerns. Hopes of selling U.S. lawmakers on financing roads, bridges, and digital infrastructure far from U.S. shores may depend on a dose of nationalism. As Rep. Gregory Meeks, the chairperson of the House Foreign Affairs Committee outlined in Foreign Policy in June, the B3W initiative can be a cleaner alternative to the “Trojan horse” of China’s Belt and Road, which has helped China “expand its political, economic, and military reach at tremendous cost to host nations and at America’s strategic expense.”

However, the prospects for a well-funded international infrastructure plan are undermined by Biden’s push for an infrastructure overhaul at home. As of Monday, that domestic plan continues to stall in Congress due to the steadily accumulating concerns of one Democratic senator.


What We’re Following Today 

In from the cold? India on Monday ended its status as a holdout in climate pledges after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a commitment to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070. The time frame puts it 10 years behind China and Saudi Arabia and two decades after the United States and European Union. Modi also promised India would receive 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, a goal it is already well on track to achieve.

Fish fight. The European Commission intervened on Monday in the simmering fishing rights dispute between the United Kingdom and France, in an effort to defuse a French threat to block port access and impose strict checks on British imports from today onward.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Monday said France had made “completely unreasonable threats” and gave French authorities 48 hours to offer a resolution or face legal action, while French President Emmanuel Macron said he would delay a French response to allow time for negotiations, saying he would know by the end of today whether “things have fundamentally changed.”


Keep an Eye On

Russia-Ukraine tensions. Ukrainian officials have denied reports of Russian equipment movement near its borders following reports of an increase in military supply movements in recent days. Over the weekend, the Washington Post reported that U.S. and European officials were concerned over “irregular movements” of equipment and personnel in western Russia unrelated to scheduled military exercises. As FP’s Amy Mackinnon reports, “equipment movements and bellicose rhetoric from Moscow has led some experts to believe Russia is taking an increasingly hawkish line with its neighbor.”

Ethiopia’s civil war. The Ethiopian government has accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of committing war crimes in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, south of Tigray. A government statement on Monday said TPLF forces “summarily executed” more than 100 “youth residents” in the town of Kombolcha following a gun battle. The TPLF has not responded to the accusations, which came hours after the group claimed to have captured Kombolcha and its airport. If confirmed, the gain would put TPLF forces within 230 miles of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Perceptions of America. The U.S. health care system is a stain on the country’s reputation among other wealthy nations, a new survey by the Pew Research Center found. The survey of 17 advanced economies found U.S. technological prowess was viewed the most positively, with 72 percent of respondents ranking it as either the best or above average among developed nations, followed closely by its entertainment sector and military. In contrast, 66 percent of respondents ranked the U.S. health care system as either the worst or below average.

In a sign that acrimony in Washington is influencing perceptions abroad, only 17 percent of respondents said the U.S. democratic model is a good example for other countries to follow.


Odds and Ends

Chinese tech giant ByteDance, the owner of TikTok and its Chinese equivalent, Douyin, has issued new working guidelines designed to shorten the punishing workweek common among Chinese tech workers known as “996” (a 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six-day, 72-hour workweek).

As the Washington Post reports, under the new rules, workers will instead be expected to hew toward a 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., five-day workweek (quickly dubbed “1075” by Chinese social media users).

The decision may have less to do with worker welfare than fears over China’s Big Tech clampdown. China’s top court declared 996 illegal in August following the deaths of several tech workers.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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