Officials of the US, Australia, Japan and India, a set of countries known as the Quad, met Thursday in Singapore for "consultations on regional and global issues of common interest." They will "focus on ways to counter China's growing influence," mentioned many media ahead of the meeting.
Their aim? To provide an alternative model to China's ways of lending for infrastructure projects, "which has in some cases saddled poorer nations with debt and increased their dependence on Beijing," said Bloomberg.
So far, there is no clue to what this "alternative model" is. If the four countries simply aim to rival with the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), rather than helping regional economies, their tactic is doomed to fail. Because in that case, what they advocate is a political model, not an economic one and certainly not for the goal of development.
The question that follows is, how much are they willing to invest for "it"? Earlier this week, US Vice President Mike Pence revealed a loan of $60 billion to support infrastructure projects in Indo-Pacific countries. Not too shabby. But are there any additional political requirements attached to it? Many developing countries find it hard to get loans from Western nations either because their political systems are not in line with the West or due to their reluctance to copy Western political standards. The Quad is only repeating history. How could it expect to replace the BRI?
As early as 2015, Tokyo announced a plan to provide $110 billion in aid for Asian infrastructure projects. Thanks to the country's rich experience in infrastructure construction and comparative generosity in this regard, its investment was welcomed by regional nations. This does not signal that Tokyo has begun replacing Beijing, rather that because Tokyo's plan is complementary to the BRI, competition between the two is benefiting regional developing countries.
Canberra, on the other hand, unveiled a $1.4 billion infrastructure fund for the South Pacific earlier this month. However, compared with the huge demand of emerging Asian economies, the number is merely a drop in the bucket. It better figure out how to raise more money first.
India is worse. As a country well known for low governing efficiency, how can it possibly make the quick and unanimous decision of investing overseas? How long could New Delhi give a green light to such a program - three years or four years? Not to mention India's poor track record in infrastructure constructions, rarely does an Indian project get finished on time.
The four nations fail to realize that lending for infrastructure projects in Asia is not about debt burden, but about whether they actually care about Asia's development, and more significantly, how much they are capable of investing in it. When they are trying to persuade the region that they are competent to fulfill its development dreams, they are misrepresenting themselves with a delusive promise of an "alternative model".
Our suggestion is, instead of being the loudest in the room, why doesn't the Quad complete a mega-infrastructure program of its own that differs from the BRI they repeatedly denounce?