SYDNEY • Australia, the United States and Japan will jointly invest in infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific, officials have announced, in an attempt to counter China's efforts to court influence in the region.
Beijing has loaned countries across Asia billions of dollars as part of its Belt and Road development strategy, including to island nations in the Pacific, a region Canberra views as its backyard.
The Australian government has raised fears in recent months that some small Pacific nations might get trapped with unsustainable debts, handing Beijing influence.
Australia, along with the US and Britain, has also raised concerns that Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, which inked a deal with the Solomon Islands last year to build an Internet link to Australia, exposes telecoms networks to security risks.
The company denies the claim.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said yesterday that the trilateral partnership would "mobilise investment in projects that drive economic growth, create opportunities and foster a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific".
"We share the belief that good investments stem from transparency, open competition, sustainability, adhering to robust global standards, employing the local workforce and avoiding unsustainable debt burdens."
She said that Australia's Foreign Affairs Department, the US' Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation were developing a framework of cooperation.
Ms Bishop did not name China in her announcement, but Canberra has been critical of Beijing's Pacific "soft diplomacy" push and has refocused its aid programmes to win over the island nations.
Australia said in June that it would negotiate a security treaty with Vanuatu, and would also fund and build an undersea communications cable to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea via the Coral Sea, forcing out Huawei.
China's role in the region is set to be high on the agenda at the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum annual meeting in Nauru next month.
Representatives from the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea governments were not immediately available for comment.
The Coral Sea project cannot come soon enough for the Solomon Islands, where clouds can disrupt pricey satellite connections.
"It has been too long; we are desperate for it right now,"said Mr Edmund Losi, information and communications technology manager of the University of the South Pacific's Honiara campus.
"The relationship with Australia is important for the government and politicians, but we don't care really," he said.
"If it can be done sooner with China, then come on, China."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS