The Case of Australian Reluctance With the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative

The Case of Australian Reluctance With the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative

Mona Chung (Deakin University, Australia) and Bruno Mascitelli (Swinburne Institute of Technology, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7095-0.ch002

Abstract

The One Belt One Road initiative is a global strategy proposed by President Xi in 2013. It was referred to as the new silk road approach which includes a land-based and ocean-based routes. The BRI, were it to reach its milestones, would be a landscape changing plan of the world and not just for China. As Australia's number one trading partner, China plays an important role for Australia especially for its economy. However, there has been a poor and lacking understanding of this strategy since 2013. The chapter highlights the importance of the strategy and the approach by the Australian politicians. Fearing being left behind, Australia politicians begin to pay attention to the strategy and especially any related plans which may or may not include Australia. The aim of this chapter is to ascertain and explain why Australia has adopted a cool and almost negative approach towards the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). With further exploration of the Australia-China trade relationship, the chapter raised the question of the importance of China to Australia.
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Introduction

The aim of this chapter is to ascertain and explain why Australia has adopted a cool and almost negative approach towards the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Much has been discussed about this grand plan and what it means for China’s economic and political standing in the world. Despite China being Australia’s main trading power and slowly becoming one of the main investment sources for foreign direct investment the Belt and Road Initiative has attracted less enthusiasm from the Australian government and equally less interest from Australian firms.

After years of fanfare and celebrations about the Free Trade Agreement with China signed in 2014, there has been a cooler response about this broader Chinese infrastructure project. Moreover, the unease between Australia and China over alleged Chinese interference in Australia and Australian politics has made discussion of such matters more infrequent and subdued.

The Belt and Road Initiative ceremony conducted in early 2017 with world leaders and dignitaries present saw a paltry presence from Australia both in official government presence as well representatives of Australian firms. To the formal invitation of adhesion to the Belt and Road Initiative, Australia has yet to respond but generally seems neither committed nor enthusiastic on the initiative. It, according to one report, has even gone to the point of “discussing with the United States, India and Japan the establishment of a joint regional infrastructure scheme to rival China’s multibillion dollar Belt and Road initiative in an attempt to counter Beijing’s spreading influence” (Coorey 2018). While the Australian political opposition through the voice of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has expressed support for the initiative, this has not been either voiced loudly and in substance could be interpreted as a “maybe”. The question this chapter will also seek to address is what is behind this decision and why is Australia so unenthusiastic on this project?

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