Blue Dot Network White Paper
Author: Matt Geason
The rising tension between the United States and China has been at the forefront of the Indo-Pacific narrative for the past several years and sufficient reason. As China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) provides development financing to nations with unknown risks and U.S. relations with its allies have appeared strained, we anticipated concern for the future of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region. While these developments are concerning, there is little that is unfamiliar here. Global politics is in a state of constant flux, and therefore nations must adapt over time.
To approach this challenge in the Indo-Pacific, the United States has committed to promoting a "Free and Open Indo Pacific" through initiatives that are based on values of respecting sovereignty and independence of other nations, peacefully settling disputes and adherence to international law. Within the framework of promoting a "Free and Open Indo Pacific," two initiatives stand out. The Indo-Pacific Transparency Fund and the Blue Dot Network. Both are initiatives that seek to support good governance and responsible well-vetted infrastructure development in Indo-Pacific states. As both actions are part of the U.S. visions in the Indo-Pacific, both complement each other as they further infrastructure development and good governance.
Indo-Pacific Transparency Initiative
United States Vice President Mike Pence announced this initiative in mid-November of 2018 at the APC CEO Summit held in Papua New Guinea. The Indo-Pacific Transparency Initiative's objective is to provide more than 200 programs that seek to promote the U.S. vision of fostering civil society, the rule of law, and transparent, accountable government oversight throughout the region. Mainly, these 200 programs focus on anti-corruption, fiscal transparency, democracy assistance, youth and emerging leader development, media freedom, and protecting fundamental freedoms and human rights.
As China offers assistance to countries in the region, states risk becoming victims of the Chinese practice of overseas repression. Beijing is actively exporting its means of repression, and its instruments systematically undermine media and subversively influences civil society, which compromises the political and economic stability of states. Efforts made by the United States in the region are not to compete with China but instead offer an alternative form of assistance to nations. This assistance will ensure that these nations' sovereignty and civil society remain. To demonstrate how this initiative has already positively impacted countries, Indonesia stands as a good example. In coordination with South Korea, the United States has assisted Indonesia's National Integrated Complaint Handling system to assist combatting government corruption and promote responsible and accountable government by providing transparent means of processing complaints at all levels of the Indonesian government.
To further achieve its vision, the United States is already demonstrated in Indonesia's example, seeking to work with its allies in the region to promote government transparency and good governance. A notable example of this occurred during the first annual U.S.-Taiwan Consultations on Democratic Governance in the Indo-Pacific, held in Taipei. After this meeting, Taiwan agreed to further promote good governance, human rights, and anti-corruption policies in the region to further this vision. As the United States continues to work with its allies in the area, this demonstrates the strong commitment and resolve the United States and its allies must ensure the region can access assistance to combat corruption and promote transparent and accountable government. It has and always will be a critical mission of the United States to further and support civil society and responsible government across the world as it is a fundamental tenet and global interest of the United States.
Blue Dot Network
In November of 2019, the United States announced its plans, together with Japan and Australia's support, to launch a global infrastructure development network in the Indo-Pacific region and across the world. This new effort, known as the Blue Dot Network (BDN), seeks to bring together governments and the private sector to work under an economically efficient, sustainable framework compliant with international laws and infrastructure regulations. The Indo-Pacific region is of great importance to the United States, and therefore the project will further allow the United States to assist other countries with infrastructure development. However, what plans do the United States and its partners have for this new network?
The BDN is still a work in progress, and as the threat of COIVD-19 continues, we may not know more information for some time, yet, what can we expect it in the future? Primarily speaking, the BDN will seek to certify infrastructure development projects that coincide with the internationally accepted infrastructure principles outlined in the G20 Principles for Quality Infrastructure Investment, the G7 Charlevoix Commitment Innovative Financing for Development and the Equator Principles. This certification will demonstrate how a specific project aligns with international principles, such as labor, market-driven, sustainable, and economical, among other laws at its core. As for the utilization of standards when certifying projects, while the standards are still being finalized, they will act as a beneficial incentive to have projects approved under the BDN. For example, having an infrastructure project certified by BDN will increase private and public financing institutions' confidence, thus reducing the financial risk of investment and ensuring that a project is appropriately vetted, and any potential future risk is addressed. Effectively, this network seeks to certify projects to instill confidence in development finance institutions to mitigate the financial risk of projects and ensure high-quality infrastructure projects are completed efficiently.
From a different perspective, the Blue Dot Network is somewhat similar to China's BRI, and some may say that it directly challenges the BRI; however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are several core differences between the two. Firstly, unlike the BRI, which poses a threat to developing countries which could become stuck in a debt trap while sourcing development financing. The Blue Dot Network does not possess a funding mechanism for projects and will not be distributing loans to countries for projects. The network seeks to provide projects with the expertise and experience that the system offers as part of the certification process, not add to the debt of a nation nor encroach on its national sovereignty. Both are concerns that have arisen from China's BRI. Therefore, the Blue Dot Network seeks to demonstrate itself as an alternative to the BRI, where nations are respected, given aid in preparing infrastructure development projects, and have assistance obtaining financing for their projects.
Tensions are higher in the Indo-Pacific than they have been in past decades; however, this should not be treated as a signal of the United States' diminishing influence but instead another instance where a nation finds itself off-kilter. The United States has committed to the Indo-Pacific region and seeks to develop countries in the area further. Whether this is providing experts to assist with assessing the risk of an infrastructure project or helping a government reduce corruption, the United States and its allies in the region seek to promote further and defend the values and principles that have guaranteed peace and prosperity in the region.
Matt Geason is a MA candidate in Asian Studies and a Freeman Foundation International Fellow at The George Washington University. Previosuly, he was a Research Analyst at Thomson Reuters, a Foreign & Public Policy Intern at the Taipei City Government Special Projects Office, and a Program Coordinator at the D.C. based think tank, Truman National Security Project. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in Political Science.