New Delhi: Australian foreign minister Marise Payne on Wednesday said her country will support plans to build new regional economic connectivity in South Asia and has earmarked $25 million for the venture.

The aim of the initiative is to deepen her country’s economic engagement in the region as part of its goal to enhance its footprint in the Indian Ocean region, Payne said in New Delhi at the Raisina Dialogue, a foreign policy event organized by the Observer Research Foundation think tank that is backed by the Indian foreign ministry.

In recent years, China, the US, Japan, and India have either started or announced plans to deepen their economic engagement in the Indo-Pacific region—a large swathe of geostrategic space between the west coast of the US to the east coast of Africa. China has announced its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), aimed at building roads, ports and railways connecting Asia, Africa, and Europe, while India and Japan have announced the Asia Africa Growth Corridor, widely seen as a counter to the BRI.

The US has announced it will support infrastructure construction in the Asia Pacific under the BUILD Act that was signed into law by President Donald Trump last year. Australia too had announced $2 billion for infrastructure in the Pacific region where China has been making inroads among the island states like Vanuatu.

The South Asia Regional Infrastructure Connectivity initiative was a $25 million programme spread over four years, Payne said.

It will “focus on improving the quality of infrastructure and investment particularly in transport and energy sectors—sectors with an important economic value-add. A particular aim of the SARIC initiative will be to deploy Australia’s expertise in these sectors and to leverage our comparative advantage in infrastructure policy and financing—such as in infrastructure financing and public private partnerships, well-known to our processes in Australia," she said.

Payne outlined Australia’s interests in the Indian Ocean region and noted that more than half of her country’s total exports depart from Indian Ocean ports, around half of Australia’s global trade crosses the Indian Ocean and five of Australia’s top 15 trading partners lie on the Indian Ocean rim, one of which was India. “So in no small measure, the peaceful and open character of this ocean is a vital national interest for Australia," she said

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