Two deals between the state of Victoria and China’s National Development and Reform Commission have been vetoed by Australia’s Foreign Minister. The Chinese embassy criticised the move by Minister Marise Payne as “provocative”, further damaging relations with Australia.
Following laws passed in the Australian Parliament last December, the Foreign Minister has the power to block deals negotiated between local & state authorities and foreign governments. Payne claims she has received hundreds of notifications over such deals. Talking to ABC radio’s AM show Payne said: “This scheme is very focussed on Australia’s national interest. It’s about ensuring consistency of our foreign relations across Australia and it’s most certainly not aimed at any one country”.
In previous talks, Australia’s conservative coalition government declined a memorandum of understanding with China on the Belt and Road Initiative. On the state level however, Victoria’s Premier Dan Andrews of the Labor party, signed agreements to promote Chinese investment back in 2018 and 2019.
In a statement, the Chinese embassy called the Foreign Minister’s move “another unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China”.
Chen Hong is director of the Australian Studies Centre in East China Normal University, Shanghai. They told the Global Times that Australia had “basically fired the first major shot against China in trade and investment. China will surely respond accordingly”.
Canberra-Beijing relations have been on the decline for a while, including Australia’s call for an independent probe into Covid-19’s origins, then China’s high tariffs on Australian barley and wine, and the blocking of Australian coal shipments.
Foreign Minister Payne’s announcement did not solely concern China. Two other trade deals, one between Victoria and Iran, and another with Syria, were banned also.
Wang Xining, deputy head of mission for the Chinese Embassy told reporters “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”.
Philip English, is a member of the YCL’s Manchester Branch