Australia examines China-led building bonanza

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The country of the Great Wall wants to build more great things everywhere and Australia is weighing up whether to get a piece of the trillion dollar action.

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo is headed to Beijing for the One Belt One Road international summit that kicks off on Sunday.

The ambitious economic and foreign policy – which seeks to revive ancient land and ocean trade routes – was unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013.

It’s a transnational infrastructure building bonanza that aims to connect China’s underdeveloped regions to Europe up through Central Asia.

The second part of the plan is to link up fast-growing south-east Asian regions to China’s southern provinces with ports and railways.

China believes the grand scheme will boost economic growth and trade, and cut down on transit time for goods.

Analysts estimate One Belt One Road has $US1.3 ($A1.8) trillion in projects already initiated under the banner.

That’s more than seven times larger than America’s Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.

But Mr Ciobo is slightly cautious.

“Australia sees some complementarities between initiatives we’re undertaking like Northern Australia and China’s (scheme),” Mr Ciobo told AAP.

“But both are two separate initiatives.”

Mr Ciobo acknowledged there could be opportunities for Australia’s finance, construction, design and engineering sectors, while there was experience, knowledge and capital that both countries could share with each other.

Labor is much more enthusiastic about the initiative.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong, who was in China in early May, said the Abbott government’s initial reluctance to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in 2014 was “timorous and self-defeating”.

“We need to display much greater confidence in harnessing the opportunities of the (Belt Road initiative),” she said, in an opinion piece for The Australian.

“The government’s unexplained equivocation on the BRI, and the opportunities it could create, risks repeating these mistakes.”

Critics of the program fear China is seeking economic and strategic domination and human rights and environmental standards could be undermined. There are also concerns poor countries could be left laden with massive debts.

Some Chinese bankers are worried about the investment risks, including the feasibility of some projects and political instability.

Nonetheless, as the US becomes a hermit under Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda, China has the attention of scores of countries.

Almost 30 heads of state and governments are expected to attend the summit, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Myanmar’s defacto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

There will also be leaders representing parts of Europe, Africa, Middle East and South America.

By Lisa Martin
Australian Associated Press

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