China Buys Friends With Ports and Roads. Now the U.S. Is Trying to Compete

The Wall Street Journal:

Rare bipartisan program dedicates $60 billion for overseas infrastructure projects including cellular networks, vaccine production and maybe even a crumbling Greek shipyard. A rehash of USAID.

An aging shipyard here has a new suitor sizing it up for investment: the U.S. government.

To counter China’s rising global economic influence, Washington has taken a new direction with foreign assistance. Rather than just lend money or promote trade, as in recent decades, the U.S. is now investing dollars overseas to advance American national-security interests. It wants ports, cellular networks and other strategic assets to stay in friendly hands.

At the forefront of this effort is an agency Congress overhauled in 2019, the International Development Finance Corp., or DFC.

“It’s a very significant investment tool that we have to compete” against China, said Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Trump administration was quick to use the DFC, discussing purchasing the shipyard with Greek officials and offering loans to get Ethiopia to shun 5G cellular equipment from China’s Huawei Technologies Co.

The Biden administration wants to go further, to offset Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy and other efforts. The Group of Seven wealthy democracies last month announced a new initiative, called Build Back Better World, that they promised would unleash hundreds of billions of dollars for projects in needier countries. It was designed as an explicit alternative to Chinese infrastructure offerings.

U.S. officials say the DFC is the initiative’s most powerful tool. Its $60 billion investment cap exceeds the combined resources of its counterparts in the other six nations. “We’re going to invest more this year than any time in the agency’s history, which reflects the president’s vision,” Chief Operating Officer David Marchick said.

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