US efforts to match BRI fall short of China’s contribution but can still be welcome addition

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/19 22:18:39

Although the US isn't participating in the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative (BRI), Washington's policy has already been influenced by the ambitious plan. This would not necessarily be a bad thing if the initiative prompts the US to provide more assistance to countries and regions along the BRI route.

The US and several Western powers said recently they will connect 70 percent of Papua New Guinea's people to electricity by 2030, Bloomberg News reported, a move that was quickly interpreted by some Western media outlets as a response to counter China's growing influence in the region.

Hydroelectricity is Papua New Guinea's main source of power, but hydropower plants are expensive to build, posing a challenge to their deployment in the island country. Nationwide power shortages are a chronic headache for Papua New Guinea, but that problem has been badly ignored by Western countries in recent decades.

The US has the economic resources to help Papua New Guinea build an electricity grid, but why did Washington fail to offer help until now?

Since it was announced in 2013, the BRI has received an increasing amount of global attention.

The US has been watching the plan and observing China's rising influence in Pacific island countries warily. If Washington wants to win the "battle for influence," it has to put more focus on economies that were blind spots in its previous strategy to expand its international influence.

The BRI initiative is being labeled as a game-changer, because the image and significance of some countries has been enhanced as they give full support to the initiative. Although what those countries are getting from the US amount to relatively small sums, they're still a good sign of the changing attitude of Washington toward its infrastructure aid.

The US effort to connect more of Papua New Guinea's population to the electricity grid is just a by-product of the China-proposed BRI. Washington is trying to catch up with China's infrastructure influence but more effort is needed. By-products of the BRI can hardly offset China's growing influence, but they're still welcome because they can promote regional economic integration.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


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