Sydney, Australia. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Sydney, Australia. Picture: THINKSTOCK

Sydney — Australia, the US and Japan plan to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific by jointly investing in infrastructure projects in the region.

Beijing has loaned countries across Asia billions of dollars as part of its Belt and Road development strategy, including to island nations in the Pacific, a region Canberra views as its backyard.

The Australian government has expressed fear in recent months that some small Pacific nations might get trapped with unsustainable debts, handing Beijing influence.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the trilateral partnership, announced on Tuesday, would "mobilise investment in projects that drive economic growth, create opportunities, and foster a free, open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific".

"We share the belief that good investments stem from transparency, open competition, sustainability, adhering to robust global standards, employing the local workforce, and avoiding unsustainable debt burdens."

She said Australia’s foreign affairs department, the US’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and the Japanese Bank for International Co-operation were developing a framework of co-operation.

Bishop did not name China in her announcement, but Canberra has been critical of Beijing’s "soft diplomacy" push in the Pacific and has refocused its aid programmes to win hearts and minds in the island nations.

Australia said last month that it would negotiate a security treaty with Vanuatu, and would fund and build an underseas communications cable to the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

China’s role in the region is set to be high on the agenda at the 18-nation Pacific Islands Forum annual meeting in Nauru in September.

Earlier this month China announced it was planning a first-ever summit between President Xi Jinping and Pacific Island leaders ahead of this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum in Papua New Guinea.