Australia has inked two new international infrastructure agreements with our Pacific neighbours. These projects have been warmly welcomed by our allies in the Pacific. But some voices in China have expressed anger, as they see this as Australia cutting off their interests.
Security concerns aren’t the only thing Australia is tackling concerning undersea internet cable deals.
The Turnbull government’s decision is also set to counter China’s growing control over the pacific, particularly its use of loans and grants to build infrastructure projects.
Leaders of Australia, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea have welcomed the project to place an undersea internet cable between the three countries, despite criticism from China at Australia’s bid to contain its foreign influence in the region.
Is China a problem for the Asia-pacific region?
All signs seem to stem back to China. The country is known as a playground bully when it comes to its smaller Asian-pacific counterparts. Aid and discounted loans are already marred by problems, from poorly built and long-delayed projects, to acquired interest that is bigger than the countries can reasonably afford, even with the discounted interest rates.
It’s no stretch to worry that Huawei, which still retains links to its Chinese government, poses a threat to Australian infrastructure.
In 2016, the Solomon Islands government had signed a contract with the Chinese telecommunication giant to lay the internet cable to Aussie shores.
Now, the Aussie government is supporting the PNG cable and will foot most of the bill to lay the cable to the Solomon Islands, after senior government officials previously said it was unlikely that Canberra would grant the company a ‘landing point’ for the cable on Australia’s mainland.
Australia is spending nearly $137 million on the project. Realistically that seems like a small price to pay to ward off china’s increasing control and at the same time providing foreign aid.
Mr Turnbull said it was a practical way to achieve this.
‘We spend billions of dollars a year in foreign aid, and this is a very practical way of investing in the future economic growth of our neighbours in Pacific’ he said.
How Australia is countering Chinese control tactics
Last month, The Australian Company Vocus was awarded the $136.6 million deal to undertake the construction of the 4,000-kilometre undersea cable.
In response to reports from the media that Australia and New Zealand would sign a new security pact with Pacific Island nations later this year to combat the growing influence of china in the pacific.
The security pact is known as Biketawa Plus, which builds upon the Biketawa Declaration signed in 2001 and is being considered by members of the Pacific Islands Forum on account that it previously guided the Forum’s collective action towards natural disasters, civil unrest and other crises.
The Global Times argued it would be a strategic mistake if the new security pact was aimed at China.
‘The region will only suffer more losses from containing China,’ it announced.
‘Instead of being overly cautious about china’s rise, Australia and New Zealand should avoid misleading the region on china’s role, and other regional countries should be clear about the consequences of being misled’ the Global Times said.
It remains in Australia’s interests to maintain good relations with our neighbours. That can include working together on major infrastructure projects. Just as it remains in our interest to pay attention when any major power goes out of its way to exert influence on our and our neighbours’ political processes.
By Leah Wallace
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