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

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.


Western Union closes Cuba offices close as sanctions bite

Updated 24 November 2020

Western Union closes Cuba offices close as sanctions bite

  • Money transfers from the US via Western Union were estimated at more than $1 billion last year
  • Current options for remittances include agencies that hire ‘mules’ to fly out to Cuba with cash

HAVANA: Western Union suspended its operations across Cuba on Monday evening as new US sanctions kicked in, cutting a key lifeline for many struggling Cuban families as the coronavirus pandemic deepens the Communist-run island’s economic crisis.
US President-elect Joe Biden has promised to roll back some sanctions on remittances. But any lifting of the suspension could take time and until then, Cuban Americans are expected to resort to alternatives that are more costly, less secure and less rapid.
Remittances to Cuba are believed to be around $2 billion to $3 billion annually, representing its third biggest source of dollars after the services industry and tourism.
Money transfers from the United States via Western Union were estimated at more than $1 billion last year, the majority of which was sent from Florida, according to John Kavulich, president of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
Current options for remittances include agencies that hire “mules” to fly out to Cuba with cash and which predate Western Union’s start in Cuba 20 years ago, as well as companies that transfer dollars to Cuban accounts – though that money can only be used at state stores.
Cryptocurrency exchanges are also promoting themselves as an alternative. Cuban Americans can transfer digital currencies to middle men on the island who then give money to the Cuban Americans’ relatives.
But such platforms lack oversight, cryptocurrencies can fluctuate rapidly and unexpectedly in value and Internet access is still not a given in Cuba, Kavulich said.
“We’ve looked but there are no safe services,” said local resident Arturo Labaut.
The closures of Western Union’s 407 offices in Cuba came into effect after US President Donald Trump’s administration banned US firms sending remittances via military-controlled companies that include Western Union’s main Cuban partner.
His administration has also previously capped the amount Cuban Americans can send family members at $1,000 per quarter, and transfers of money to non-family members are no longer allowed.
The new ban comes just as Cuba has started enacting structural reforms to revive its state-run economy which have been long called for but which will spell pain for its residents in the meantime.
“It’s a bad time to be doing this because of the suffering it will cause,” said Florida International University professor Guillermo Grenier.
“It’s not governments that suffer, it’s people.”