ASEAN-Australia Infrastructure Cooperation Initiative
People's Daily (人民日报)
20 March 2018

The following is a translation of an article published by the People’s Daily (人民日报), an official newspaper of the Communist Party of China. The article was also circulated on Australian Chinese-language outlet Melbourne Today (今日墨尔本) :

Australia denies helping ASEAN countries engage in infrastructure to counter China’s influence

During Australian Prime Minister Turnbull’s visit to the United States in February, news that Australia, the United States, Japan and India will cooperate in the launch of a “four-nation regional joint infrastructure plan” to help Asian countries engage in infrastructure and counterbalance the rising influence from China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” was revealed in major media. At that time, the countries involved were secretive and did not disclose any information on it to the outside world. On March 18th, at the Australia-ASEAN summit in Sydney, the host country Australia announced the “ASEAN-Australian Infrastructure Cooperation Initiative.” The Australian Financial Reviewreported that this is Australia’s first public announcement that it will strengthen cooperation with Southeast Asian countries in infrastructure construction.

The initiative stated that Australia will play a role in the design, feasibility and planning of infrastructure projects which would then be funded by regional institutions such as the Asian Development Bank. Australia’s Foreign Minister Bishop said in a statement on the 18th that the Sydney-based G20 Global Infrastructure Center will establish contact with ASEAN and “strengthen cooperation between the public sector and private investors to fund ASEAN infrastructure projects.”

The Australian government did not disclose how much capital it would invest in this capital construction project, nor did it clearly specify what kinds of projects it was targeting. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation said that this plan is actually the focus of Australia’s efforts to respond more effectively to China’s influence. It is also the first time that Australia has taken specific actions to challenge China’s dominant position in infrastructure construction.

Japan has taken the lead in discussing how to use the four-nation dialogue mechanism as a fund-raising agency to provide assistance to Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. In January this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan said in an interview with the Australian Financial Review: “Ensuring international standards for the construction of infrastructure such as ports is very important, and infrastructure investment must be open and transparent, and it must not endanger financial security.” In response to the enormous enthusiasm of China and Asian countries for infrastructure, President Trump has promised in the recently announced budget to establish a specialised financial institution. At the East Asia conference held in Manila last year, the United States, Australia, Japan, and India discussed the issue of regional infrastructure cooperation for the first time. Also during that meeting, the four nations agreed to resume the so-called “quadrilateral security dialogue.”

Reuters reported on the 19th that a senior U.S. government official disclosed that the four-nation regional joint infrastructure plan is still in its embryonic stage and has not yet reached a level of maturity which allows it to be announced. But it is seriously being discussed. He tended to describe the plan as an alternative to the “Belt and Road” rather than a “competitor.” Bishop’s spokesperson said on the 19th that the agreement was purely an ASEAN initiative and “is not meant to counter China.”

The Australian Financial Review stated that due to its hesitation in joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Australia lost its chance to be vice president of the bank.  Because of the alarmist speculation about China’s true intentions, Australia’s attitude towards the “Belt and Road” is ambiguous. Australia’s Minister responsible for foreign aid to the Asia-Pacific region even went as far as launching a random attack on China’s infrastructure projects in the South Pacific. Some Asian scholars said at the meeting last week that the Australian government should work hard to help ASEAN countries design better infrastructure projects rather than trying to encourage them to remain vigilant about Chinese funds. Moreover, where the funding for the ASEAN-Australia Infrastructure Cooperation Initiative will come from is also questionable because Australia has already cut infrastructure spending in its aid budget.

Translation by: Chris R. Lanzit, NAATI Certified Professional Translator (Chinese-English), NAATI Practitioner ID: CPN0BC84W

Date of translation: 21 March 2018

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