January 20, 2020 / 5:20 AM / a month ago

Australia targets Indian investment to develop remote north amid China tensions

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s government aims to boost investment from India to develop its remote north, seen as a front door to lucrative Asian markets, amid concerns that tighter regulatory oversight and diplomatic tensions with Beijing will curb Chinese spending.

Matt Canavan, Australian Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, Japan, October 23, 2018. Picture taken October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Files

While much of the foreign spending in the region has come from China in recent years, Australia’s Minister for Northern Australia, Matt Canavan, acknowledged in a newspaper interview on Monday that Canberra’s relationship with Beijing has changed, intensifying the pressure to diversify infrastructure ties.

“It is a more volatile environment and a totally different playing field than what we had five years ago,” Canavan told The Australian newspaper, in comments confirmed by government officials contacted by Reuters.

“India and Southeast Asia will account for more of the growth in demand for Australian resource commodities than any other region, including China.”

Australia’s relationship with China has been strained in recent years amid Canberra’s allegations that Beijing is meddling in its domestic affairs.

In September, Reuters reported Australian intelligence had found China was responsible for a cyber-attack on the national parliament and three largest political parties earlier this year.

China’s foreign ministry denied involvement in any hacking attacks and said the internet was full of theories that were hard to trace.

India is Canberra’s fourth-largest trading partner, worth A$29.1 billion ($20.02 billion) in 2018, though New Delhi is a relatively small investor into Australia, government data shows.

Some Indian investment has been controversial, most notably Adani Enterprises’ planned coal mine in outback Australia.

First acquired by Adani in 2010, the project is slated to produce 8-10 million tonnes of thermal coal a year and cost up to $1.5 billion, but has been mired in court battles and opposition from green groups.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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