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Australia Launches $1.5 Billion Pacific Fund To Counter China’s Influence

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Australia Launches $1.5 Billion Pacific Fund To Counter China's Influence

Australia will offer Pacific countries up to A$3 billion ($2.18 billion) in grants and cheap loans to build infrastructure, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday, as Canberra seeks to counter China’s rising influence in the region. Australia and China have been vying for influence in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich oceans.

China has spent $1.3 billion on concessional loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific’s second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that several tiny nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.

“The government I have the privilege to lead, is returning the Pacific to where it should be; front and center,” Morrison said in a speech announcing the new Pacific initiative.

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“This is our patch. This is our part of the world.” Morrison said Australia will create a A$2 billion infrastructure fund that will invest in telecommunications, energy, transport, water projects.

Australia will also give an additional A$1 billion to its financing arm, which offers loans to private companies unable to secure funds from traditional lenders, to invest in the Pacific.

Morrison said Australia would also expand its diplomatic presence in the Pacific, posting staff to Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.

Australia said it will also strengthen defense and security ties with Pacific islands through new joint exercises and training.

While Morrison did not name China in his most detailed foreign policy speech since he become Australia’s sixth prime minister in the last decade in August, few were in doubt as to who the policy was aimed at combating.

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“Australia is reacting to what China is doing. Australia needs more tools to engage with the Pacific,” said Jonathan Pryke, a Pacific Islands foreign policy expert with the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank.

Ties between Australia and China, its largest trading partner, have been strained since Australia accused China of meddling in its domestic affairs late last year.

“This announcement will be a gauge of whether Australia can improve relations with Beijing while doing things that would have previously annoyed China,” said Nick Bisley, professor of international relations at Melbourne’s La Trobe University. Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne will on Thursday meet her Chinese counterpart in Beijing, the first visit by an Australian foreign minister in two years after bilateral relations soured.

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Australia has in recent months earmarked the Pacific for infrastructure spending, driven by national security concerns, but it has been forced to raid its aid budget to fund projects.

In May, Australia said it would spend about A$200 million to develop an undersea internet cables to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the Solomon Islands amid national security concerns about China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL].

Earlier this month, Australia said it would help PNG develop a naval base, beating out China as a possible partner for the port development.

Diplomatic sources told Reuters Australia was worried the port could accommodate military vessels in strategically important waters.

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CBN, SEC Grant Approval In Principle To Access And Diamond Bank Amid Merger

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CBN SEC Grant Approval IN Principle To Access And Diamond Bank On Proposed Merger

The Central Bank of Nigeria and the Securities Exchange Commission have granted an approval in principle to Access Bank and Diamond Bank on their proposed merger.

An Access Bank Executive Director, Victor Etuokwu, says the banks were expecting the final approval to come after the banks’ shareholders meetings.

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Etuokwu said the banks have received two of three approvals needed for the process, and that the final approval would be completed in the next sixty days.

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Etuokwu said the new bank that would emerge after the merger would focus on retail and corporate banking.

Robert Giles in charge of retail at Diamond Bank says customers will be able to use Automated Teller Machines, ATMs, of either bank at no cost.

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Maritime Expert Urges FG To Develop Policies To Boost Ship Ownership In Nigeria

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Maritime Expert Urges FG To Develop Policies To Enable Ship Ownership In Nigeria

The federal government has been asked to develop policies that would help increase local ship ownership that would help in the training of Nigerian seafarers.  Currently, there are no locally-owned ships operating in international waters.

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The call was made in Abuja on Tuesday by Mfon Ekong Usoro, secretary-general of the Abuja M.O.U. On Port State Control for West and Central African Region.

She said the absence of locally-owned vessels trading at the international stage has reduced opportunities for hand-on experience for Nigerian seafarers.

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Usoro said this has reduced the abilities of Nigerian seafarers to compete against their contemporaries around the world in areas of international shipping.

She called on NIMASA to invest in a training ship like that of South Africa’s Samsa and create berths for sea training for Nigerian seafarers.

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China Central Bank Injects $83 Billion Into Economy

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China: Central Bank Injects $83 Billion Into Economy

China’s central bank has on Wednesday injected a record $83 billion into the country’s financial system in order to avert a cash crunch that could destabilise the country’s economy.

The country’s weakening economy has made policymakers to step up stimulus measures in protecting jobs,

But a raft of measures last year from big rail projects to tax cuts seem to have had little impact so far, with recent data suggesting activity is cooling more quickly than expected.

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A senior economist in Hong Kong, Trinh Nguyen said, it is very obvious the economy of China needs help and so many authorities agreed to that.

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Wednesday’s injection was aimed at ensuring there are ample funds in the financial system, which is facing strains as tax payments peak in mid-January, and as demand for cash picks up ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays starting in early February, People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said.

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The injection which is the bank’s largest net single-day injection came a day after China’s state planner, central bank and finance ministry all offered reassurances to investors, signaling more spending and other types of policy support.

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