In a continuing trend, Australia has confirmed that it will be funding up to $25m worth of infrastructure projects across South Asia, with the Indian Ocean being a key region to shore up geopolitical support. With the war of attrition between China and Australia seemingly heating up, this could be a significant move.
This week, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed her intent for the nation to increase its overseas footprint in key strategic areas. Given that Australia’s ties with India have been strengthening in recent months as the two nations acknowledge the need for cooperation to combat Chinese influence in the region, this is yet another sign that Australia can be a vital player.
Since the US appears to have taken a backseat in current developments, Australia seems to have picked up the mantle somewhat. Because China’s reach feels much closer to home than it might for Australia’s allies, maintaining some form of influence across the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean could be essential to provide geopolitical stability.
Though much talk has taken place on the Asia Pacific region, there has been less focus on the Indo Pacific area, which stretches from the West Coast of the US to the East Coast of Africa.
China took early ground with the launch of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which Japan, India, Australia and the US have been keen to counter. There have even been talks of setting up a quadrilateral agreement between all these nations.
In the meantime, Payne’s appearance at a New Delhi event is being backed by the Indian Foreign Ministry in a diplomatic show of support as Australia and India look to work together in more detail.
Australia has already put $2bn worth of funding into the Pacific region to help build infrastructure, connectivity services and better prepare the area for dealing with technological advances. This has been an investment vehicle for some time, and there are indications that it has been successful enough to roll out to other key areas.
Payne announced that the South Asian Regional Infrastructure Connectivity plan will run over four years, and the $25m in funding may just be an initial sum if circumstances move along as expected.
She told an audience in New Delhi that the funding will aim for ‘quality of infrastructure and investment, particularly in transport and energy sectors’ and would target areas that can generate a return on investment and add the most to India’s economy. Payne described Australia’s plan to provide ‘expertise in these sectors and to leverage our comparative advantage in infrastructure policy and financing.’
If Australia can help get projects off the ground, then it is likely to gain key support on all sides fairly quickly, which could help in the navigation of any political hurdles.
Commenting that the ‘peaceful and open character of this ocean is a vital national interest for Australia,’ Payne cited the fact that more than half of Australia’s exports go through this channel and almost half of its global trade takes the same route. Given that a third of Australia’s top trading partners sit along the Indian Ocean’s rim, it makes sense for the nation to offer more stability.