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EU to counter Chinese influence in Asia

As doubts grow over China’s vast “Belt and Road” trade infrastructure project, the EU is launching an alternative plan for Asia that it says will not saddle countries with debt they cannot repay.

Asian countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives have joined the Belt and Road Initiative of China.

The AFP news agency reported that EU member countries are expected to sign off on the new “Asia connectivity strategy” — which aims to improve transport, digital and energy links while promoting environmental and labour standards — in time for a major summit of European and Asian leaders next month.

Brussels insists the scheme is not a response to any other player, but its launch comes as the sheen fades on Beijing’s “new Silk Road” initiative, which envisions railways, roads and ports being built across the globe using billions of dollars in Chinese loans.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s diplomatic chief has said talks have been going on for several months with a number of Asian countries that were “interested in looking at the European way”.

“Our initiative will aim at creating jobs and economic growth and benefits for the local communities,” she has told reporters.

“I would not say if this is different from other’s proposal but this is our proposal.”

According to AFP, the new strategy comes after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for a more muscular EU foreign policy to match the bloc’s economic clout, taking on not just US President Donald Trump’s “America First” approach but also China’s energetic involvement in Africa and Asia.

Maaike Okano-Heijmans, an EU-Asia relations expert at the Clingendael Institute in the Netherlands, said the initiative was a “very important step” after criticism of the EU in some quarters that it has been slow to respond to Chinese soft power plays.