Australia hangs back on China Silk Road plan

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a news conference at the end of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, Monday, May 15, 2017. Xi on Monday appealed to foreign leaders at a forum on a Chinese trade initiative to resist pressure to close markets. (Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP)

Nearly 70 countries have signed up to be a part of China’s new Silk Road plan but Australia is yet to jump aboard the trillion-dollar gravy train.

Over two days Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted close to 30 world leaders and representatives from 100-odd countries at the One Belt One Road international forum in Beijing.

Beijing already had 65 nations signed up to its international infrastructure scheme but had secured a further three commitments by the time the summit wrapped up on Monday.

Mr Xi used the summit to pledge an extra $US124 billion ($A168 billion) on top of the $US1.3 trillion ($A1.8 trillion) worth of projects already in the pipeline.

One Belt One Road is a building bonanza across land and oceans, linking up Asia, Eurasia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe in a bid to boost trade and economic growth while cutting transit time for goods.

Mr Xi emphasised the plan is inclusive and not set by ideology.

“As an ancient Chinese saying goes – one single light feather does not make a bird fly high or one single hoof does not make a horse run fast,” he said in a statement to the international press without taking questions.

Australian Trade Minister Steve Ciobo attended the forum but despite seeing some merit in China’s grand plans, remains cautious about signing up.

He said there were “complementarities” between the government’s plans to develop northern Australia and the One Belt One Road initiative but he emphasised they were “separate”.

His predecessor Andrew Robb was also at the forum and is in favour of the scheme, warning after 26 years of uninterrupted economic growth Australia is at risk of becoming “complacent”.

Australia’s hesitation is in stark contrast to New Zealand, which signed up during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s official visit in March.

Innovation Minister Paul Goldsmith told AAP over the next 18 months China and New Zealand would draw up a work program.

There’s speculation China Rail could be granted a contract to build a 22 kilometre stretch of highway and rail corridor from Whangarei to a port at Marsden Point in Northland as part of One Belt One Road.

Mr Goldsmith declined to discuss specific projects.

China’s vision has also captured the imagination of Britain as it negotiates its divorce with the European Union.

“It is my belief that Britain, lying at the western end of the Belt and Road, is a natural partner in this endeavour,” British finance minister Philip Hammond said.

India snubbed the summit, still angry at the China-Pakistan economic corridor which runs through the disputed territory of Kashmir.

China went to great lengths to minimise controversy surrounding North Korea’s involvement in the summit, which came the same day the rogue state tested a missile.

On Monday the state-owned China Daily, the largest English-language newspaper, ignored the launch.

In the lead up to the summit the paper produced a propaganda video starring a blonde American little girl playing with blocks and toy trains over a world map as her dad explained the One Belt One Road plan during a bedtime story.

Beijing wasn’t the only one to use the summit to soften its image.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, showed off his piano skills playing Soviet-era songs from his childhood while killing time before a bilateral meeting with Mr Xi.

China will host another One Belt One Road forum in 2019.

* Lisa Martin travelled to the forum as a guest of the Chinese embassy in Canberra.



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