US President Donald Trump holds a trilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Manila on November 13, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Planning is under way to establish a joint regional infrastructure scheme led by the US, India, Japan and Australia, as the four countries continue efforts to balance China’s growing regional influence.

One senior US official said as much in an interview with the Australian Financial Review, adding that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to discuss the plan during talks in Washington, DC, this week, possibly during a meeting with President Donald Trump.

The official played down the idea that the plan would be a “rival” to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, saying he preferred the word “alternative.”

Talks were still in the preliminary stages and the plan “won’t be ripe enough to be announced during Mr Turnbull’s visit, but was being seriously discussed,” AFR quoted the source as saying.

“No one is saying China should not build infrastructure,” the official said.

“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.”

The planning comes as the Trump administration embraces Japan’s articulation of a “free and open Indo-Pacific.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe first coined the phrase in 2016, according to Fumiaki Kubo, a University of Tokyo professor, after which Trump used the expression repeatedly on his first tour of Asia.

The four countries agreed last November to revive the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad,” on the sidelines of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit held in Manila. The dialogue was first conceived in 2007, but was subsequently shelved amid complaints from Beijing.

The AFR report comes a week after it wrote that the China hawk nominated to be the US ambassador to Australia, Harry Harris, was expressing concerns about China’s “predatory economic behavior in the Indo-Pacific.”

Turnbull will head to Washington on Wednesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet with Trump and lead a delegation of Australian politicians and business executives.

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