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Source: Economic Times

“NEW DELHI: Australia has taken a cue from India, its key Indo-Pacific partner, and is all set to distance itself within weeks from China’s mega Belt and Road Initiative that has witnessed pushback in various other continents.

Premier of Australia’s Victoria state Daniel Andrews’ controversial Belt and Road deal with the Chinese government is expected to be rejected by Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a few weeks, ET has learnt.

The Victoria state signed a deal with China in 2018 to join BRI. But the Morrison government introduced new laws late last year, giving the federal government power to scrap any state or local government deal with a foreign power if it is deemed “inconsistent with federal foreign affairs policy”.

Andrews has defended BRI, saying it could create jobs for locals but the deal came under scrutiny last year as Australia’s relationship with China soured amid the Covid-19 pandemic, diplomatic sources recalled.

India is not a signatory to BRI and did not attend two BRI summits held so far as BRI’sflagship project CPEC passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) violates Indian sovereignty. Delhi is also of the opinion that BRI is pushing countries into a debt trap.

Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane had recently alleged that the BRI aims to “create regional dependencies”. Speaking at Assam Rifles-United Services institution joint annual seminar, he said, “”Regional security environment is characterised by Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific, its hostility towards weaker nations and relentless drive to create regional dependencies through initiatives like the BRI. The resultant Sino-US rivalry has created regional imbalances and instability””.

The army chief had pointed out that “”regional and internal connectivity is acutely linked to security”” and “”it is central to unleashing the potential of the North East and balancing the influence of China””.

India-Australia growing strategic partnership is aimed at counter-balancing Chinese aggression in the Indo-Pacific region and both are part of a resilient supply chain initiative that also involves Japan.

Australian laws could further worsen ties between Australia and its largest trading partner, which have been worsening since last April, when Morrison called for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus. Beijing has since then introduced a range of trade reprisals, including imposing crippling tariffs on Australian barley and wine while blocking coal shipments.

Besides the BRI deal signed by Victoria, which aims to increase Chinese participation in new infrastructure projects, the law may allow the federal government to review and overturn memorandums of understanding between Beijing and the governments of Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania in sectors ranging from investment, science cooperation and access to the Antarctic, ET has further learnt. Partnerships between Australian universities and Beijing-sponsored bodies could also be scrapped.”