by Shirley Ze Yu
Conditioning G7 infrastructure financing on democracy will create a supersized China that is more empowered in the developing world.
The G7 economies offered an unprecedented $600 billion infrastructure pledge—the first attempt to form a developing world “Marshall Plan” in the post-colonial era—at the G7 Summit last week. Given the $15 Trillion global infrastructure financing deficit before 2040, the G7’s commitment is encouraging, albeit meager. The plan was conceived by the world’s largest democracies to outcompete China in owning twenty-first-century global infrastructure.
However, even worse than failing to outcompete China would be leaving much of the developing world to China.
Infrastructure has been at the center of global order and development since the Roman era. China has been the developing world’s willing, ready, and able infrastructure partner over the past decade. One African researcher told the London School of Economics that there are no “democratic roads or authoritarian bridges.” The ultimate end of infrastructure is development, not ideology. This echoes the Chinese view.
Conversely, the G7 affirmed that its infrastructure investment would be values-driven. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2021 Global Democracy Ranking, twenty-three of Africa’s fifty-four countries are categorized as full democracies (only Mauritius), flawed democracies, or hybrid regimes. If the G7 infrastructure pledge exclusively supports democracies, only one country by the strictest standard—or twenty-three countries by the most relaxed standard—in Africa would even qualify for the funding.
Here is a more sobering reality for the G7. Because most African and Asian countries do not qualify for the G7’s investment based on their political fundamentals, China will likely be their strongest and only financier in the decades to come. In today’s world, fewer than 20 percent of the population lives in a full, free democracy—and that number is shrinking. The rest of the world’s 80 percent is being pushed into China’s economic orbit by the G7’s own making.
The G7’s renewed Cold War grand game will create a more fractured world. When China completed laying the PEACE cable along the east coast of Africa in 2021—supplying low-cost, high-speed data access from Djibouti to South Africa and across the Mediterranean to southern France—it would not have been admirable nor economically viable to only provide telecom connectivity to democracies.
Infrastructure has a minimal impact if it is developed piecemeal, like a jigsaw puzzle. The developing world will be more divided and economically unequal if a digital wall is erected against non-democracies and infrastructure reaches only the lands where votes are counted.
There are three reasons why the G7 needs to restore the lost faith in its infrastructure commitment across the developing world.
Source: The National Interest