Defence Minister Marise Payne scraps Victoria's controversial infrastructure deals with China

Laverne Higgins
April 22, 2021

The Sydney Morning report said that the Morrison government and national security experts were concerned that China was using the agreement with Victoria as a propaganda win to claim the that state government had broken ranks with Australia's China policy.

- Memorandum of understanding between the government of Victoria and the National Development and Reform Commission of the People's Republic of China on cooperation within the framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative, signed 8 October 2018.

Payne said she had chose to cancel four deals, including two that Victoria agreed with China, in 2018 and 2019, on cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese President Xi Jinping's signature trade and infrastructure scheme.

In a statement, a Chinese Embassy spokesman condemned Australia's BRI move, which is expected to plunge the fractured relationship between the two countries into greater acrimony.

"We have done nothing intentionally to hurt this relationship, and we have seen too many incidents over the past few years in which China's interest has been hurt", Wang Xining, the Chinese Embassy's deputy head of mission, told reporters Wednesday in Canberra.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced on Wednesday night that the BRI deal that Victoria state signed with China has been cancelled under the Commonwealth's new foreign veto laws.

"This is another unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China".

Victoria signed a memorandum of understanding in relation to the Chinese regional infrastructure initiative in 2018 and then signed a "framework agreement" with Beijing in 2019.

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It also reflects the broader principle that foreign relations are a national matter and agreements by states and territories with foreign governments should not be at odds with the federal government's policies.

In 2018, Canberra staged an worldwide first by banning the Chinese tech giant Huawei from Australia's 5G network.

China is Australia's largest trading partner and before the pandemic, its biggest source of overseas university students.

Morrison's government had previously denied that its newly legislated veto power was aimed at China.

Ties between Australia and China have soured after Australia called for an independent investigation into the origin of the coronavirus a year ago.

Payne said under the audits of existing and proposed foreign arrangements required by the new law, she had been notified of more than 1000 arrangements.

"The more than 1,000 notified so far reflect the richness and breadth of Australia's worldwide interests and demonstrate the important role played by Australia's states, territories, universities and local governments in advancing Australia's interests overseas".

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