Greg Roberts and Daniel McCulloch
(Australian Associated Press)
A new pact between Australia, the US and Japan to invest in the Indo-Pacific is being viewed as a challenge to China’s influence but Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says no one country can meet the region’s needs.
The trilateral pact comes amid rising concerns of Chinese influence throughout the Indo-Pacific through its One Belt, One Road infrastructure initiative.
Ms Bishop avoided mentioning China by name in announcing the partnership, as did her US counterpart Mike Pompeo.
But both raised common criticisms of China’s One Belt, One Road economic initiative, such as a lack of transparency and views it will leave developing countries heavily in debt to Beijing.
“Australia, the United States and Japan are all significant investors in the Indo Pacific region, we have decided to form a trilateral partnership so that we can increase our investment into infrastructure, building connectivity, driving economic growth and meeting development challenges,” Ms Bishop told reporters in Dili.
“I’ve said on many occasions that no one country alone can meet all of the infrastructure needs in the Indo-Pacific.
“I’ve said on many occasions that we welcome investment in the Pacific that adheres to global standards of transparency, accountability, engaging local workforces and ensuring that unsustainable debt isn’t imposed on the recipient nations.
“These are the standards Australia, the US and Japan will adhere to … using and utilising the local workforces.”
The trilateral infrastructure partnership was designed to increase peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, she said.
It is also widely seen as an attempt by the US to offer smaller nations an alternative to Beijing and Mr Pompeo said the Trump administration was seeking “partners, not domination” in the Indo-Pacific.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo denied the three-way initiative was a challenge to China.
“This is also about opening a wealth of opportunities to Australian businesses,” Mr Ciobo told Sky News on Tuesday.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said the government was just playing catch-up, after “dropping the ball” in the Pacific and eroding its leadership role by slashing overseas aid by almost $12 billion to its lowest levels in history.
“Everyone knows that Australia has gone backwards in the Pacific under this government,” he told reporters in Tasmania on Tuesday.
“It’s long overdue to do something.”
Labor has restated calls for infrastructure projects to be transparent, conform to environmental and social safeguards, and not place unsustainable debt burdens on regional countries.
Australia and China have signed a memorandum of understanding over the One Belt, One Road initiative, but it has not been made publicly available.