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Furthering the Maritime Silk Road Agenda: An Offer Worth Considering?

By Denis Bright

Six centuries ago the legendary Admiral Zheng He traded across the Indian Ocean Basin to East Africa, the Persian Gulf and possibly Northern Australia. China was transformed and strengthened by this early globalization.

Is this a model of globalization which can be extended centuries later by contemporary Maritime Silk Road Initiatives and Continental Transportation routes to Europe?

The Financial Times reported that the federal LNP had rejected the best offer of the New Century from China. Prime Minister Turnbull and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had just met in Beijing. The Trump Administration’s agenda for Asia was still uncertain, just a few weeks after the Inauguration:

Australia has rejected a Chinese push for a formal alignment of Canberra’s A$5bn state infrastructure fund with Beijing’s New Silk Road strategy, over concerns it could damage relations with the US at a time when it is asking Washington to do more in the region.

The Chinese initiative, also known as One Belt One Road, envisages investing almost $1tn in port, road and rail projects overseas-and Beijing has been pressing Asia-Pacific economies to sign up to its vision.

But Canberra has confirmed there will be no agreement over the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility during a trip to Australia this week by Premier Li Keqiang.

“No formal memorandum on this issue will be signed during the visit,” said one Australian official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mr Li’s trip comes at a tricky time in Sino-Australian relations. Canberra is pressing Washington to bolster its presence in the region and taking a tougher line on inward investment from China, recently blocking two high-profile takeovers.

Last week Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign minister, called on the administration of Donald Trump to expand the US role in Asia to ensure stability and peace.

“While non-democracies such as China can thrive when participating in the present system, an essential pillar of our preferred order is democratic community,” she said in a speech in Singapore, which drew an icy response from Beijing.

Like former foreign minister Andrew Peacock, Julie Bishop should not be dismissed as just another G’Day USA foreign minister.

The issue of a potential deepening of relationships with China through Silk Road Initiatives has re-surfaced according to Fergus Hunter’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald:

The Turnbull government has distanced itself from a central theme of the Trump administration’s new national defence strategy, which defines growing Russian and Chinese military might as greater threats than terrorism.

The American strategic outlook, unveiled earlier this month by Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, elevates “inter-state strategic competition” as the administration’s primary focus and outlines Russia and China as revisionist powers seeking to challenge the US, undermine free and open economies, grow their militaries and “shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model”.

But Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Monday said neither country posed a military threat to Australia – a statement at odds with an earlier response from Defence Minister Marise Payne, who said Australia shared “similar concerns” to those expressed in the US defence strategy.

“We have a different perspective on Russia and China, clearly. We do not see Russia or China as posing a military threat to Australia,” Ms Bishop told Sky News.

We continue to work closely with China. We undertake military exercises with China as well as other countries in the region and will continue to do so.”

Julie Bishop deserves strong bipartisan support in fairly evaluating China’s proposals.

The Trump Administration’s preferred rank order of our Indo-Pacific Friends is a recipe for an Australia that is locked into the old resources and rural sector first model of development. Expect more Adani Mines and Cubby Cotton Stations. There is also the recent add-on of arms exports manufactured under the tutelage of the global military industrial complexes.

There are no federal LNP plans for Australia as a regional global financial hub. China’s offer strengthens the style of capitalism which future Australian governments decide to pursue.

The Chinese offer of assisting the North Australia Infrastructure Fund (NAIF) should be a central ingredient of a Bill Shorten social market agenda. Compare this with the latest variations of the $1 billion loan by the federal LNP to fund the Adani Railway Link:

Trade Minister Steven Ciobo has quietly explored the option of taxpayer support for Adani’s embattled coal project through Australia’s export finance agency.

The Export Finance and Investment Corporation (EFIC) has confirmed it held “exploratory” talks on Adani with the office of Mr Ciobo, who last year ordered the agency to resume financing local mining projects after banks shied away from the coal sector.

EFIC also confirmed it had repeated dealings with Adani.

However, the agency — in answers last month to questions on notice from a Senate Estimates Hearing — said it was “not currently considering funding any coal projects”.

The prospect of a loan or a guarantee from EFIC would give Adani’s controversial project an alternative path to taxpayer support, after the Queensland Government shot down its bid for a $1 billion loan through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility.

Back In 1961, Labor aced every federal seat in Northern Australia except Dawson in a cliff-hanger election. Six federal seats north of the Sunshine Coast are now easily winnable on a progressive North Australia Agenda. Federal Labor can achieve majority government by these gains alone.

Melissa Price in Durack (WA) maybe be the only federal LNP member left to represent Northern Australia in the House of Representatives if Labor can consolidate an imaginative Northern Development Agenda that incorporates Maritime Silk Road Strategies.

The sprawling Durack Electorate in WA has a current 11 per cent buffer after preferences. Swings of this magnitude have been achieved in the past. When the appeal of Northern Development becomes overpowering, even an existing LNP primary vote of 41.7 per cent in Durack may not be a sufficient buffer.

Labor’s Dr. Rex Patterson achieved a swing of this magnitude in the Queensland federal electorate of Dawson at a historic by-election in 1966. The seat was retained until the LNP landslide of 1975.

Welcome to the new era of sustainable development for Northern Australia with an empathy of current trends in regional unemployment and Indigenous disadvantage.

Denis Bright is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.



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  1. Maree

    Denis, thanks for another interesting article on the proposed Silk Road Strategy, connecting Australia further with China. Interesting times ahead in this global era.

  2. lawrencewinder

    We live in interesting times… what a pity we haven’t yet found leadership to match the times

  3. Chris

    Julie Bishop deserves glorious [and] strong bipartisan support in fairly evaluating China’s glorious proposals.


  4. Jack Arnold

    Be careful what you wish for as this PRC proposal comes with strings, like employing Chinese coolie labour, Australia paying for PRC developments (see East Africa fiasco), a concentration and so reductio of markets leading to buyer downs pressure on prices. Remember, the Chinese invented Chess, and a good chess game is not won in the first four moves.

  5. Chris

    “the Chinese invented Chess, and a good chess game is not won in the first four moves.”

    Especially if at least half our pieces are getting moved by someone else……..

    China said we landed on the snake ? Again ?! What game is this ?


  6. Rubio@Coast

    Unlike some of our local Greens, I want a change of government and not just a few more colourful characters in our parliament to amend Liberal legislation. Alas, the Opposition seems to fear Malcolm Turnbull. His elitist scorn is always directed at any major deviation conventional policy directions both domestic and foreign. But the electorate is finally demanding a substantial change of direction. After Liberal rule for most of the time since 1996, fewer and fewer people see total loyalty to the USA and President Trump as the way to go. The Silk Road agenda is the sale of the century if it brings new investment to Northern Australia. The Adani project is a joke in comparison with more coal freighters likely to be going through Barrier Reef waters to threaten our tourism image with support from old-fashioned leaders who think they are creative.

  7. Lalnama

    Timely article Denis
    Australia cannot afford to be one sided in its attitude to the USA.
    We need to look after our own interests & maintain our current good trading relations with China as well as other Asian neighbours
    We can support the USA but not just blindly agree to everything they say

  8. Sue

    Federal members who continue to support loaning money to Adani are totally out of touch with the electorate as witnessed by the recent Queensland state election.
    However the unemployment map of northern Australia is a ghastly spectre .
    Perhaps the Maritime Silk Road initiative can be given consideration to help improve this .

  9. James Robbo

    So many alternatives to the Adani Mine are available to assist with Northern Development.

  10. Matters Not

    Recently been to Sri Lanka where the Chinese influence (hegemony?) is huge – almost beyond belief.

    right now, the focus of anxiety is Port City Colombo. Construction is set to generate tens of thousands of jobs, and the foreign finance it attracts is seen as crucial to reducing the country’s US$64.9 billion debt burden. Yet critics argue the port may undermine sovereignty and do little to help local business prosper.

    When I was there, construction was on a 24 hour basis and the vast bulk of the workers were Chinese. And that was just Colombo where they are reclaiming so much land from the sea.

    Then there’s the only real highway from Galle to Colombo. Chinese built and a resulting impossible debt for Sri Lanka. But wait there’s more:

    Normally the roads leading to Asian ports are bustling. Trucks loaded with cargo. Small shops where lorry drivers and workers take a tea break.

    Hambantota port in southern Sri Lanka is starkly different. … Hambantota was built by a Chinese company and funded by Chinese loans.

    .. terms of the deal are still being debated in Sri Lanka’s parliament, but the share it gives could be as high as 80%. … also fits neatly into China’s controversial One Belt, One Road initiative, building road, rail and sea links to boost trade with countries around the world.

    More here.

    Hard to get your head around. But it’s clearly an economic takeover. Absolutely no need for military force.

  11. wam

    broome tennant isa townsville would make a great new northern territory boundary no politicians outside of canberra.

  12. Frederick

    Never mind that the scenario behind or driving this grandiose scheme is completely untenable.
    The global eco-biological systems just cannot support what is envisaged. We would quite literally need 3 or 4 more Earth like planets to support such a seemingly unlimited consumerist “paradise” (nightmare).

    Two weeks ago there was an essay in the Australian’s glossy weekend magazine describing this grandiose scheme. The purpose of the scheme being the almost unlimited expansion of the consumerist mentality so that everyone linked to the infrastructure of the scheme could have access to all of the latest consumer items, especially electrical or micro-electronic.
    Where is all the energy going to come from to empower this scenario, and what is going to be done with all of the inevitable waste in the form of discarded packaging (especially plastic) and discarded consumer items (with their built in obsolescence). For example most computers become obsolete within a few years as the technology becomes more sophisticated, and (seemingly) everyone NEEDS to have the very latest I-phone.
    The biosphere is already being overwhelmed with our waste. Today’s papers featured an item re how our completely inadequate waste-disposal systems are on the point of collapse. Huge areas of the planet will have to become dumping (sacrifice) zones.

  13. Paul

    Very interesting article here! What a topical and long term strategic area.

    So many options and variables to consider. I like the chess analogy!

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