US and Australia set to announce joint infrastructure plan for Pacific Island nations

The US and Australia plan to lay submarine cables, build wharves and provide other infrastructure for Pacific Island nations as part of joint efforts to offer development “alternatives” to countries in the region, two officials in US President Joe Biden’s administration announced on Tuesday.
Details of the plan will be made public during Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s state visit to Washington this week, which the White House said “will underscore … the two nations’ shared commitment to supporting an open, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific”.
The two senior administration officials also hinted at military agreements to be announced, involving both countries and Japan, outside the trilateral security alliance known as Aukus.
That initiative was launched in 2021 by Biden, and his Australian and British counterparts at the time, respectively Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson.

“As we’ve stood up our efforts in the Indo-Pacific we’ve listened closely to the island nations about what their main challenges are,” one official told reporters.

“This programme will provide what we believe to be very high-speed, secure, stable internet connectivity with a large number of the key islands in the Indo-Pacific.

“It’s a bold stroke and a very substantial step towards connecting islands that are often caught out during terrible storms or national disasters back into contact with other countries,” he added.

Additional projects on offer in the joint initiative include the construction of maritime docks o make commerce and travel easier between some Pacific Island nations, another administration official said.

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“The United States and Australia are really flexing their muscles when it comes to the ability to provide … alternatives for partners in the Indo-Pacific,” the officials added.

According to the official, in their discussions this week, Biden and Albanese will tackle “a broad range of issues that animate them in [the Indo-Pacific], ranging from the importance of peace and stability and international law in the South China Sea to our deep engagements in the Pacific islands to our mutual commitment to and leadership within the Quad” security partnership.
The infrastructure programme appeared to be the latest effort by the US and its closest allies to respond to Beijing’s globe-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a 10-year series of projects financed largely by China to improve trade and economic integration across regions.

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The Biden administration has worked to establish competing initiatives, such as a nascent multinational ship-to-rail transit network known officially as the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor.
Public health and development efforts aimed at other countries are also available through groupings like the Quad, which also includes Australia, Japan and India.

After starting in 2013 to boost global trade and commerce by improving infrastructure and connectivity with Asia, Africa and Latin America, the Belt and Road Initiative has seen China spend more than US$1 trillion across the last decade.

The success Beijing has managed in bringing countries on board with its global infrastructure programme has moved in tandem with the growth and modernisation of its military, particularly throughout the western Pacific.

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The country’s prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare. signed a raft of deals during a trip to Beijing in July, including an agreement allowing China to maintain a police presence in the island nation.

When asked about defence technology cooperation that Biden and Albanese would discuss, the second official said “announcements related to trilateral cooperation with the US Australia and Japan” may involve quantum computing, unmanned vehicles and other areas that the Aukus alliance seeks to develop.

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