Belt and Road Initiative

Victoria signed China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a deal with China in 2018. This Chinese Initiative is a huge and ambitious project worth trillions of dollars that involves China co-funding hundreds of infrastructure projects all over the world. Under the deal, China will form partnerships with many governments in many countries to build needed infrastructure there.

Some experts believe, as a given, China will, while funding and developing infrastructure in those countries, widen its influence. Some experts saw China’s efforts as measures by China setting up debt traps for poor countries.

And when Daniel Andrews signed the deal in 2018 in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), it was explained as a boost for investment in our much needed infrastructure and promotion of Victorian businesses and companies in China.

The deal was done, despite the federal government politically not being ready for it. And the signing of the deal was followed up with a “framework agreement” in October 2019. This agreement was provide guidance on how to implement the MoU and included setting up a joint working group.

There had been a mumbled criticism of the Andrews government’s BRI deal with China ever since Premier Andrews signed the MoU but nothing like this week when the US threatened to “disconnect” from Australia if the deal threatened telecommunications.

Victoria’s secretive agreement with China — part of its controversial Belt and Road Initiative — has come under scrutiny this week after the US threatened to “disconnect” from Australia if the deal threatened telecommunications.

Creating world headlines, on Sunday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US wouldn’t hesitate to “disconnect” from Australia if Victoria’s involvement in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) threatened its telecommunications security.

The sentiment in Australia had not been very accommodating of China ever since China placed a tariff of almost 80 per cent on Australian barley through our exports industry out of kilter in an instant. China has also banned import of Australian meats from four of Australia’s biggest abattoirs.

Although the barley tariff issue is approximately 18 months old, the Australia’s meat import bans and the announcement of barley tariff at the time when Australia legitimately only asked for an independent inquiry into the origins and its handling of COVID-19, China has made things worse.

And the BRI deal between Victoria and China – of course is not at all a good like in this climate.

Perhaps reading the political landscape like a scholar, Victoria’s Liberal-National leadership on Saturday, 30 May announced that a Coalition government in Victoria will scrap the BRI deal with China because it undermines our – security, sovereignty and Victorian jobs.

“We have assessed Daniel Andrews’ Belt and Road deal with China looking at sovereignty, security, the economy and jobs”, Victoria’s Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said in a statement.

On that assessment, Daniel Andrews’ BRI deal with the Chinese Government is not in Victoria’s interests and a Michael O’Brien-led Liberal Nationals Government will end it”, Mr O’Brien added.

His Coalition partner, the Nationals leader in Vcitoria, Peter Walsh said, “We will maintain a strong trading relationship and partnership with China, based on genuine mutual interests, not political deals.”

Alleging the deal to be serving Chinese government’s political interests, Mr Walsh added:

“A deep economic and cultural engagement with China is in Victoria’s interests but first we need to get out of this secret MOU that binds Victoria to the political interests of the Chinese Government – against the advice of the Australian Government and independent observers.”

Critics of the deal have pointed out a case of Sri Lanka’s development of Hambantota port under a similar deal. They point to the fact that China’s has manoeuvred the arrangement to grab a 99 years lease of the port and thousands of kilometres of surrounding land when Sri Lanka authorities could not pay back the debt.

Citing and highlighting that example, Pauline Hanson called Premier Andrews a “bloody idiot”, while responding to a question on Victoria’s BRI deal with China.

“People need to steer clear of China … Daniel Andrews I’ll tell you now you’re a bloody idiot if you head down this path,” she told Sky News.

Supporters of the Belt and Road Initiative deal and Daniel Andrews point to the fact that – as of now, Victoria has signed only a ‘non-binding’ MoU – merely an ‘understanding’ and thus in its current form cannot be a security risk by any stretch of imagination.

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