Alternative Belt and Road plan may be in the works

US, Japan, Australia and India considering infrastructure initiative like China's: Report

SYDNEY • Australia, the United States, India and Japan are talking about establishing a joint regional infrastructure scheme as an alternative to China's multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative in an attempt to counter Beijing's spreading influence, the Australian Financial Review reported yesterday, citing a senior US official.

The unnamed official was quoted as saying the plan involving the four regional partners was still nascent and "won't be ripe enough to be announced" during Australian Prime Minister Turnbull's visit to the US later this week.

The official said, however, that the project was on the agenda for Mr Turnbull's talks with US President Donald Trump during that trip and was being seriously discussed. The source added that the preferred terminology was to call the plan an "alternative" to China's Belt and Road Initiative, rather than a "rival",

"No one is saying China should not build infrastructure," the official was quoted as saying. "China might build a port which, on its own, is not economically viable. We could make it economically viable by building a road or rail line linking that port."

Representatives for Mr Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, asked at a news conference about the report of four-way cooperation, said the four regularly exchanged views on issues of common interest. "It is not the case that this is to counter China's Belt and Road."

Japan, meanwhile, plans to use its official development assistance (ODA) to promote a broader "Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy" including "high-quality infrastructure", according to a summary draft of its 2017 white paper on ODA. The Indo-Pacific strategy has been endorsed by Washington and is also seen as a counter to the Belt and Road Initiative.

COMPLEMENTARY PLAN

China might build a port which, on its own, is not economically viable. We could make it economically viable by building a road or rail line linking that port.

A SENIOR US OFFICIAL

China's Belt and Road plan is a vehicle for the country to take a greater role on the international stage by funding and building global transport and trade links in more than 60 countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has heavily promoted the initiative, inviting world leaders to Beijing last May for an inaugural summit at which he pledged US$124 billion (S$163 billion) in funding for the plan, and enshrining it in the ruling Communist Party's Constitution in October. Last month, Beijing outlined its ambitions to extend the initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming, forming a Polar Silk Road.

The US, Japan, India and Australia have recently revived four-way talks to deepen security cooperation and coordinate alternatives for regional infrastructure financing to that offered by China.

The so-called Quad first met as an initiative a decade ago - much to the annoyance of China, which saw it as an attempt by regional democracies to contain its advances.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2018, with the headline 'Alternative Belt and Road plan may be in the works'. Print Edition | Subscribe