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US, Japan, Australia will invest to counter Chinese influence in Pacific

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech opening the sixth U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue while then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew listening in Beijing, China on July 9, 2014. (U.S. State Department)

A Chinese navy ship will dock in Fiji days after the United States, Japan and Australia announced plans for joint investments seen as a counterweight to the communists’ growing influence in the Pacific.

The investment plans announced Monday by the Pacific allies are seen as a counterweight to China’s “Belt and Road” initiative to build roads, railways, ports, pipelines and power plants across Asia.

“This trilateral partnership is in recognition that more support is needed to enhance peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” Australia Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in a statement Tuesday.

The partnership will be run by the U.S.’s Overseas Private Investment Corp., the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation and Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The Australian statement didn’t give details about funding but said the partnership would “mobilize investment in infrastructure, such as energy, transportation, tourism, and technology.”

Paul Buchanan, an American security analyst based in Auckland, New Zealand, said Australia and New Zealand have already boosted aid funding in response to Chinese efforts in the region.

“In New Zealand’s case the funding is seen as belated and after the cat is out the bag,” he said.

In Tonga, for example, the Chinese are building a new embassy that will serve as a signals intelligence base close to undersea data cables, Buchanan said.

In Fiji — where the People’s Liberation Army Navy hospital ship Daishan Dao is due Thursday for its second visit — Beijing has given the navy a new “surveillance and hydrographic” ship. Earlier reports said China had provided Fijian police with training and vehicles, and that police have asked for Chinese surveillance drones.

Brad Glosserman, a visiting professor at Tokyo’s Tama University, said there’s a massive need for infrastructure spending in the Pacific regardless of what China does.

“This [trilateral partnership] is about competition for hearts and minds in the region and the world and to pretend otherwise is silly,” he added.

Investment in Asia was a major part of the Pacific Pivot policy under President Barack Obama. However, President Donald Trump’s “America First” ideology undercut that by pulling out of the pivot’s largest component, the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and seeking to draw funds back to the U.S. from overseas, Glosserman said.

On the other hand, Chinese overseas investments have been hyped, he said.

“A lot of these projects aren’t working. The idea that this is an extraordinary success for the Chinese isn’t real. If you look at Southeast Asia in particular the numbers still favor the Japanese in terms of investment and aid,” he said.

Last year, for example, Japan committed to spending $110 billion over 10 years in Southeast Asia, Glosserman said.

It’s still not clear how much will be invested under the trilateral partnership, but the demand is there with trillions of dollars of infrastructure needed in a rapidly growing region, he said.


© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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