The United States on Friday clashed with China at the UN Security Council over Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative, saying the infrastructure investment scheme had “known problems” with corruption and debt distress.

The US-China spat soured negotiations on a resolution on Afghanistan, forcing the council to adopt a temporary rollover of the UN mission there for six months instead of a year.

Beijing’s flagship initiative, which aims to develop new trade routes through major infrastructure projects such as airports and roads, has been described by critics as Chinese expansionism.

US Acting Ambassador Jonathan Cohen accused China of demanding that the resolution highlight the Belt and Road initiative “despite its tenuous ties to Afghanistan and known problems with corruption, debt distress, environmental damage, and lack of transparency.”

Jonathan Cohen
Jonathan Cohen. File photo: UsGovt.

Cohen bluntly accused China of holding UN negotiations hostage “by making it about Chinese national political priorities rather than the people of Afghanistan.”

China shot back, with Deputy Ambassador Wu Haitao telling the council that Cohen’s remarks were “at variance with facts and fraught with prejudice.”

“This is an initiative of economic cooperation aimed at achieving common development and prosperity. It has nothing to do with geopolitics,” said Wu.

The sharp exchange came as the United States and China are locked in negotiations aimed at ending a trade war that has left businesses struggling with tariffs on billions of dollars in two-way commerce.

The UN resolution on the Afghanistan mission has contained language on cooperation with the Belt and Road initiative since 2016.

The US insistence that the call for cooperation with the Chinese initiative be dropped from the resolution followed sharp criticism last year by Vice President Mike Pence who said the program had left countries drowning in debt.

one belt one road
Photo: GovHK.

The United States has sought to challenge the Chinese scheme but the initiative continues to draw support. On Monday, Italy said it would sign a memorandum of understanding to officially support the Belt and Road Initiative.

More than 123 countries have signed agreements to cooperate with China under the program, Wu said.

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