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Semester One Intern Debate: Australia should join China's Belt and Road Initiative

Published 30 Jun 2019

On the 25th June 2019, the Institute hosted a debate by its semester one interns. The topic was “Australia should join China’s Belt and Road Initiative”.  Arguing for the affirmative were Euan Moyle and Alex McManis. For the negative, Lucy Nason and Kevin Fine. Kevin Boreham moderated the debate. Mr Boreham coordinates the International Law Clinical Program at the ANU College of Law where he taught International Law from 2002 – 2017.

The affirmative team spoke to the investment opportunities and economic potential of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). They noted the increasing geopolitical tensions between the US and China and proposed Australia’s membership of the BRI as an expression of Australia’s independent foreign policy. The affirmative team described two future scenarios.  The first was a world where the BRI became an exclusionary economic sphere, locking out all who weren’t a part of it. The second, a less exclusionary scenario, but still one in which Australia could gain access to Central Asian markets through BRI infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the negative team spoke to debt trap diplomacy and argued that the BRI constituted an unsustainable development model. The negative team asked, “what kind of investment would Australia be welcoming under the BRI that we wouldn’t otherwise be receiving anyway”. The negative team further argued that if Australia is to pursue a values-based approach to diplomacy then the country should not join the BRI.

Mr Boreham awarded the debate to the negative team. However, in doing so he observed that both teams should have engaged more deeply in the underlying political question on which the debate topic was based. Without engaging with and acknowledging that Australia’s membership of the BRI is intimately bound up in Australia’s relationship with China and the US at a time of increasing competition between the two powers, both the affirmative and negative skirted around a key element underpinning the debate.

Report by Thom Dixon
Vice President
Australian Institute of International Affairs, NSW

From left to right:  interns Euan Moyle & Alex McManis, adjudicator Kevin Boreham, and interns Kevin Fine and Lucy Nason