(WASHINGTON) JUST IN: As Beijing aligns with EU members US/Japan/Australia Launch ‘ Blue Dot Network ‘ in competition with ‘ Chinas Belt and Road Initiative ‘ Wilbur Ross announced on the sidelines at ‘ ASEAN Summit ‘ on Tuesday #AceNewsDesk reports

#AceNewsReport – Nov.06: In a bid to provide an alternative to China’s multi-billion-dollar Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, Washington has announced its ‘Blue Dot Network’ designed to fund infrastructure “sustainably”. A illustration of US and Chinese flags covering currencyPhoto: The US is playing catch-up to China’s globe-trotting Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. (Reuters: Jason Lee)

Key points: Video: Inside China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. (ABC News)

  • The Blue Dot Network was jointly launched by the US, Japan and Australia
  • Its authors say it will act as a counterweight to China’s Belt and Road infrastructure fund
  • US officials have likened it to a ‘Michelin Guide’ for Asian infrastructure investors

The plan’s name is a reference to the late scientist Carl Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot and the photo of Earth taken by Voyager 1 from more than 6.4 billion kilometres away:

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the move — led by the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), and the Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) — on the sidelines of the 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Thailand on Tuesday.

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Reading the BRI's fineprint
More and more countries are choosing to ink agreements with China on its trillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative, but what are countries actually agreeing to when they sign on?

A statement on the OPIC website said the network was designed to bring the public and private sector together to “promote high-quality, trusted standards for global infrastructure development in an open and inclusive framework”

“Blue Dot Network will evaluate and certify nominated infrastructure projects based upon adherence to commonly accepted principles and standards to promote market-driven, transparent, and financially sustainable infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world,” the statement read.

Wilbur Ross stands behind a metal lectern in front of a giant blue screen that reads '2019 Indo-Pacific Business Forum'Photo: Secretary Ross’s promotion of the scheme will travel to Indonesia and Vietnam. (AP: Sakchai Lalit)

Mr Ross sought to dispel suspicions that the Trump administration is disengaging with the region, a sentiment that deepened when Mr Trump sent White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien to the annual summit, skipping it for a second straight year in order to campaign: “We have no intention of vacating our military or geopolitical position,” Mr Ross told reporters in a conference call.

He said many people had misinterpreted Mr Trump’s 2017 US decision to pull out of a regional trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as a sign of waning interest.

“We are here permanently, and we will be continuing to invest more here, and we will be continuing to have more bilateral trade, and I’m spending much more time in the region,” Mr Ross said.

Blue Dot Network billed as answer to ‘debt-trap diplomacy’

Mr O’Brien said the initiative would counter the trend toward what he said were projects that were not “high quality” that had led countries into debt traps — alluding to Washington’s complaints about Belt and Road-funded projects which it claims are undermining the sovereignty and financial stability of the countries involved: The US is not alone in its complaints about the Chinese infrastructure investment fund. Others have labelled Belt and Road debt-trap diplomacy, given that Beijing has previously demanded concessions or other advantages when a country is unable to keep up with debt repayments.

Debt-trap diplomacy?

Debt-trap diplomacy?
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This was thrown into focus in 2017 when Sri Lanka was forced to hand control of its Hambantota port to China to write off about $US1 billion of debt relief owed to Beijing.

Earlier in the week Mr O’Brien accused Beijing of “conquest” in the South China Sea — a disputed waterway central to South-East Asia that China has claimed almost in its entirety despite international rulings curtailing some of its claims.

Mr Ross said the Blue Dot Network was in its early stages but that it would include countries committed to “sustainable infrastructure development”

Earlier, Mr O’Brien told reporters it was akin to a Michelin Guide — a restaurant ratings guide — for rating investment projects in infrastructure, such as the roads, ports and energy systems that keep economies and communities running.

$US17 billion pledged to projects under the new scheme

An LNG well in the PNG highlands operated by SantosPhoto: About $US7 billion has been pledged to fund Asian energy projects. (Supplied: Santos)

The move is part of the Trump administration’s foreign policy vision focused on what it calls a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” laid out when the President travelled to an ASEAN summit in Manila, Philippines, two years ago — and ended up leaving early.

‘The project of the century’

'The project of the century'
The BRI was first unveiled by Xi Jinping shortly after he was elected as President in 2013, and been described by analysts as one of the largest and most ambitious foreign policy and economic plans in modern history.

According to US government figures, trade with the region topped $US1.9 trillion in 2018 and helped support more than 3 million American jobs:

At the Blue Dot Network business forum in Bangkok, Japan and the US signed a statement pledging to coordinate on $US10 billion ($14.4 billion) in Japanese investment in liquefied natural gas projects: Other plans include an agreement to work with the Asian Development Bank in arranging up to $US7 billion in financing in other Asian energy projects.

The business delegation led by Mr Ross includes companies such as Boeing, Tesla, Citi and Lockheed Martin: It is due to travel on to Indonesia and Vietnam after Thailand.

#AceNewsDesk reports ……….Published: Nov.06: 2019: Reuters/ABC/AP/

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