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On 27 October we hosted an online panel session examining the Build Back Better World and Belt and Road Initiatives. On this page you can find the link to the event recording.

Topic summary

Launched during the G7 Summit this year, the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative developed by G7 leaders, claims to provide an equitable and greener alternative to China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) for infrastructure development in developing and underdeveloped countries.

The B3W sends a message that the U.S. under President Biden is planning to revitalize its role as a key driver of multilateral cooperation on supporting sustainable economic development. As part of this, the B3W initiative aims to contribute to the $40 trillion worth of infrastructure needed in lower income countries by 2035.

While the B3W remains scant on detail, many commentators are likening it to China's BRI strategy which was launched in 2013 as a means of generating trade, investment and development across maritime and land based routes covering more than 70 countries.

With the Chinese government's recent issuance of 'Green Development Guidelines', Beijing is encouraging Chinese businesses to incorporate green development into foreign investments. The guidelines particularly emphasise strengthening engagement with host country environmental protection agencies and promoting investment in clean energy sectors and non-fossil energy technologies.

The U.S. and China have made progress in cooperating on international climate change agreements, however, green international development will still sit at the heart of their strategic power competition. Questions still remain on what exactly the B3W could offer that the BRI could not, and vice versa. What are the primary pitfalls that the B3W could avoid? What are each initiatives' strengths and weaknesses? What will be their impact on the global fossil fuel and coal industry? Will B3W be a comparable repetition of the Obama Era's 'Pivot to Asia' strategy aimed at counterbalancing China's power? What problems can we expect to arise from both initiatives in the short to medium term?

To answer these questions, we held a panel discussion on Wednesday the 27th of October as part of the Lau China Institute's inaugural China Week Forum (25th to 29th October 2021).

We welcomed an exceptional line-up of experts for the panel, which was held in partnership with Harvard Business School.

About the panel

Erik Solheim, Senior Advisor at the World Resources Institute; former Director of the United Nations Environment Programme & Norwegian Minister of Environment and International Development

Erik is a Senior Advisor at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and President of the Belt and Road Green Development Institute in Beijing, China. He is a Chief Mentor of the Global Alliance for Sustainable Planet, Chairman of the Board of Afroz Shah Foundation (Mumbai, India) and Co-Chair of Treelion, a green blockchain company in Hong Kong, SAR. Previously, Erik served as the Norwegian Minister of Environment and International Development from 2005 to 2012. During that period, he initiated the global programme for conservation of rainforests and brought through several national legislations, including the Biodiversity Act and Legislation. He has also been the Chair of the OECD's Development Assistance Committee as well as an Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, during which he was the Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). He is also an experienced peace negotiator having been involved in peace efforts across Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar and Sudan.

Professor Meg Rithmire, Associate Professor, Harvard Business School

Meg is an F. Warren MacFarlan Associate Professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit. Professor Rithmire holds a PhD in Government from Harvard University, and her primary expertise is in the comparative political economy of development with a focus on China and Asia. She has conducted fieldwork in many parts of mainland China as well as in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Dr Guanie Lim, Assistant Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies Japan

Guanie is Assistant Professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies (GRIPS), Japan. His main research interests are comparative political economy, value chain analysis, and the Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia. Guanie is also interested in broader development issues within Asia, especially those of China, Vietnam, and Malaysia. His latest monograph — The Political Economy of Growth in Vietnam: Between States and Markets (published by Routledge) — details the catching-up experience of Vietnam since its 1986 doi moi (renovation) reforms.

Guanie has most recently consulted for the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO), covering financial cooperation dynamics within East Asia.

Dr Zeno Leoni, Defence Studies Teaching Fellow & Lau China Institute Affiliate, King's College London

Zeno is a Teaching Fellow in 'Challenges to the International Order' at the Defence Studies Department of King's College London, based within the Joint Services and Staff College (JSCSC) of the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. He is also an Affiliate to the Lau China Institute, where he is the co-convenor of the Lau's Policy Brief Series named 'China in the World'. In 2021 he published a monograph titled American Grand Strategy from Obama to Trump: Imperialism After Bush and China's Hegemonic Challenge (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan), and a chapter on US-China Competition in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as part of the Routledge Handbook on China in the MENA. In 2020 he worked within the Italian Joint Chiefs of Defence Staff to write Italy’s first civil-military-produced Future Trends Concept 2040+ document, analysing geopolitical, technological, environmental, and economic trends. Dr Leoni also works to engage policy-makers in Italy and the UK.

Chair: Anna Tan, Doctoral Student, King's College London

Anna is a Doctoral Student and a Project Coordinator at the Lau China Institute at King's College London. Her research is focused on the impact of U.S.-China relations on the dichotomy of peacebuilding and democratisation in Southeast Asia, focusing on the Xi Jinping Era. She graduated from King's for her MSc in Global Affairs (Overall Distinction) where she specialised in China, South Asia and Middle Eastern regional studies. Anna has formerly worked for the American Red Cross and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), on multi-donor humanitarian aid projects and on matters surrounding youth policy, human rights and peacebuilding from 2016 to 2018. She was particularly involved with the American Red Cross' aid strategy preparation for the Rohingya Crisis across Myanmar and Bangladesh. She was also a former Programme Coordinator for the Conflict, Security and Development Conference of the Departments of War Studies and International Development in 2020, and was a former mentee of Visiting Prof. the Hon. Mike Rann, the former Australian High Commissioner to the UK, during her time at The Policy Institute. Her research has enabled her to engage with senior policymakers and stakeholders from across international organisations, think-tanks and governments, including the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) on issues regarding foreign policy and development aid. Her peer-reviewed publications have been featured across the Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, Department of War Studies and the School of Security Studies. Anna is originally a biological scientist, having started her career in 2012 as a Bronze Medalist and a youth scholar at the International Sustainable World Energy, Environmental and Engineering Conference (I-SWEEEP) in Houston, Texas.