Australia, US, India and Japan in talks to establish Belt and Road alternative -report

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addresses reporters in Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, in this Feb. 9, 2018 photo. (AP)
Updated 19 February 2018
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Australia, US, India and Japan in talks to establish Belt and Road alternative -report

SYDNEY: Australia, the United States, India and Japan are talking about establishing a joint regional infrastructure scheme as an alternative to China’s multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative in an attempt to counter Beijing’s spreading influence, the Australian Financial Review reported on Monday, citing a senior US official.
The unnamed official was quoted as saying the plan involving the four regional partners was still “nascent” and “won’t be ripe enough to be announced’ during Australian Prime Minister Turnbull’s visit to the United States later this week.
The official said, however, that the project was on the agenda for Turnbull’s talks with US President Donald Trump during that trip and was being seriously discussed. The source added that the preferred terminology was to call the plan an “alternative” to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, rather than a “rival.”
“No one is saying China should not build infrastructure,” the official was quoted as saying. “China might build a port which, on its own is not economically viable. We could make it economically viable by building a road or rail line linking that port.”
Representatives for Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
First mentioned during a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s to university students in Kazakhstan in 2013, China’s Belt and Road plan is a vehicle for the Asian country to take a greater role on the international stage by funding and building global transport and trade links in more than 60 countries.
Xi has heavily promoted the initiative, inviting world leaders to Beijing last May for an inaugural summit at which he pledged $124 billion in funding for the plan, and enshrining it into the ruling Communist Party’s constitution in October.
Local Chinese governments as well as state and private firms have rushed to offer support by investing overseas and making loans.
In January, Beijing outlined its ambitions to extend the initiative to the Arctic by developing shipping lanes opened up by global warming, forming a “Polar Silk Road.”
The United States, Japan, India and Australia have recently revived four-way talks to deepen security cooperation and coordinate alternatives for regional infrastructure financing to that offered by China.
The so-called Quad to discuss and cooperate on security first met as an initiative a decade ago — much to the annoyance of China, which saw it as an attempt by regional democracies to contain its advances. The quartet held talks in Manila on the sidelines of the November ASEAN and East Asia Summits.


Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

Updated 22 March 2019
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Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

  • A Ramallah-based economics professor said the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel
  • Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian Authority faces a suffocating financial crisis after deep US aid cuts and an Israeli move to withhold tax transfers, sparking fears for the stability of the West Bank.
The authority, headed by President Mahmud Abbas, announced a package of emergency measures on March 10, including halving the salaries of many civil servants.
The United States has cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in the last year, though only a fraction of that went directly to the PA.
The PA has decided to refuse what little US aid remains on offer for fear of civil suits under new legislation passed by Congress.
Israel has also announced it intends to deduct around $10 million a month in taxes it collects for the PA in a dispute over payments to the families of prisoners in Israeli jails.
In response, Abbas has refused to receive any funds at all, labelling the Israeli reductions theft.
That will leave his government with a monthly shortfall of around $190 million for the length of the crisis.
The money makes up more than 50 percent of the PA’s monthly revenues, with other funds coming from local taxes and foreign aid.

While the impact of the cuts is still being assessed, analysts fear it could affect the stability of the occupied West Bank.
“If the economic situation remains so difficult and the PA is unable to pay salaries and provide services, in addition to continuing (Israeli) settlement expansion it will lead to an explosion,” political analyst Jihad Harb said.
Abbas cut off relations with the US administration after President Donald Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The right-wing Israeli government, strongly backed by the US, has since sought to squeeze Abbas.
After a deadly anti-Israeli attack last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would withhold $138 million (123 million euros) in Palestinian revenues over the course of a year.
Israel collects around $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.
Israel said the amount it intended to withhold was equal to what is paid by the PA to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis last year.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes of the fight against Israeli occupation.
Israel says the payments encourage further violence.
Abbas recently accused Netanyahu’s government of causing a “crippling economic crisis in the Palestinian Authority.”
The PA also said in January it would refuse all further US government aid for fear of lawsuits under new US legislation targeting alleged support for “terrorism.”

Finance Minister Shukri Bishara announced earlier this month he had been forced to “adopt an emergency budget that includes restricted austerity measures.”
Government employees paid over 2,000 shekels ($555) will receive only half their salaries until further notice.
Prisoner payments would continue in full, Bishara added.
Nasser Abdel Karim, a Ramallah-based economics professor, told AFP the PA, and the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel.
The PA undertook similar financial measures in 2012 when Israel withheld taxes over Palestinian efforts to gain international recognition at the United Nations.
Abdel Karim said such crises are “repeated and disappear according to the development of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel or the countries that support (the PA).”
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including now annexed east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and Abbas’s government has only limited autonomy in West Bank towns and cities.
“The problem is the lack of cash,” economic journalist Jafar Sadaqa told AFP.
He said that while the PA had faced financial crises before, “this time is different because it comes as a cumulative result of political decisions taken by the United States.”
Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on March 10 to head a new government to oversee the crisis.
Abdel Karim believes the crisis could worsen after an Israeli general election next month “if a more right-wing Israeli government wins.”
Netanyahu’s outgoing government is already regarded as the most right-wing in Israel’s history but on April 9 parties even further to the right have a realistic chance of winning seats in parliament for the first time.
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by the administration of President Barack Obama collapsed in the face of persistent Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.