The bilateral relations between Australia and China have seen constant deterioration over the past one year as Canberra refused to succumb to what it calls the economic coercion and military threats by Beijing. Taking the fight to a new level, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hit China where it hurts the most — the Belt Road Initiative (BRI)– a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Ahead of the G7 summit, Morrison had appealed to western countries to provide financial assistance to developing countries to build infrastructure so they are not dependent on the BRI. Mincing no words, the Australian Prime Minister said the Chinese scheme makes loanee nations vulnerable to compromise their ‘resilience or sovereignty’ and leave them vulnerable to ‘debt diplomacy‘ if they struggle to pay back. Morrison’s comments were not seen as an isolated development. It came in the wake of the US President contemplating the creation of a similar project that competes and defeats the BRI so the poor and developing nations can be forced out of the Chinese orbit. To aggravate the troubles further for China, its historical rival Japan too extended its support to Morrison against the tactics of economic coercion by Beijing.
The 47th session of the G7 group saw pledges to build the US inspired global infrastructure initiative to counter China’s BRI that has the participation of over 100 countries. The ‘Build Back Better World’ plan would provide transparent infrastructure partnerships with low and middle-income countries. The initiative, which the US called “a values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership” would help narrow the USD 40+ trillion infrastructure need in the developing world, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. It will mobilize private sector capital in the fields of climate, health, digital technology, and gender equity.
Australia had drawn China’s ire after it had demanded an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19. It was followed by a slew of bans by China on Australian commodities to hurt it financially as a part of economic coercion. Canberra, however, did not budge and started looking for new foreign markets to sell commodities. At the recently concluded G7 summit, Morrison managed to get the support of the leaders to launch a new phase of the probe into the origins of coronavirus.
China’s neighbour and arch-rival India too has expressed its interest in the Biden-led initiative. After Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed two sessions of the G7 meet, Foreign Affairs official P. Harish said, “I can confirm that relevant agencies of the government of India would study `Build back better for the world` and would engage with them probably at the later stage.” While India was never a part of the BRI, its attachment with the US-led plan comes as a great relief to Australia. India is a major player in the Indo-pacific region, which China has been trying to dominate through military expansions and economic might.
All this has led the Australian Prime Minister to claim back home that G7 leaders supported the stand he has taken on China. “There was a very high level of awareness and a very strong level of support for what has been a very consistent and clear stand that Australia has taken, consistent with our liberal democratic values which are shared by all of those who joined in on the discussions these last few days,” he said. China had in February this year anticipated the plans by the G7 group to counter the BRI following Morrison’s criticism of the BRI and the UK’s invitation to Australia for the G7 summit as a guest. China’s state-run newspaper Global Times said the position taken by Morrison was in line with the stand to gang up with the US against China.