Canberra to quash Belt and Road deal

A Belt and Road deal between Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Beijing is bound to be voided by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, reports said.

The Andrews government, without the knowledge of Canberra, signed a memorandum of understanding in 2018 to take part in the US$1.5 trillion (HK$11.7 trillion) infrastructure program.

But Morrison introduced laws last year giving the federal government power to tear up any state or local government deal with a foreign power if it is deemed “inconsistent with federal foreign affairs policy.”

The Belt and Road Initiative is viewed by some in Australia as a global power play by Beijing and a national security threat.

Morrison, according to Australian news website news.com.au, said while he would not “preempt” the process – which gives states until March 10 to inform the Commonwealth of their deals with foreign governments – he had not seen any advantage from the arrangement.

“I haven’t seen the benefits of it,” Morrison said. “If there are benefits, what are they and what was paid for them? I don’t have the answers to those questions at this point, but the assessment of those arrangements will continue.”

He added that federal policy would determine foreign relations. “That’s a very important principle,” he said. “There has to be consistency when national governments deal with other national governments.”

Morrison had already indicated to Victoria that the deal was unlikely to stand. In November, Beijing cited the foreign relations laws on a list of official grievances making China “angry” with Australia.

The Belt and Road deal, which Andrews has defended as being about Victorian jobs, attracted increased scrutiny last year as Australia’s relationship with China soured amid the pandemic.

Polling conducted by the Institute of Public Affairs think tank found the majority of Victorians wanted the state to pull out of the controversial scheme, with even Labor voters strongly opposed.

Speaking to reporters last August after the new federal legislation was unveiled, Andrews said he expected Morrison to “no doubt very soon be able to list the full range of other free trade agreements and other markets that we’ll be sending Victorian products to.”

He added: “My concern has always been to grow jobs.

“And I’ve always seen these arrangements and all of our arrangements, not just with any one country but with all the different countries, different states, different provinces, different regions that we have relationships with, they’ve always been about a passport to export.”

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