China accuses Australia of ‘putting bacteria in our relationship’ after the PM moved to scrap Beijing’s controversial deal with Dan Andrews in Victoria
- Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman says Australia ‘put bacteria’ in relationship
- Victoria made a deal with China under the country’s Belt and Road Initiative
- Several government politicians fear it is harming Australia’s national interest
- Prime minister wants to pass a new law that could lead to deal being scrapped
- The proposed new law will require states to get permission for foreign deals
- Premier Daniel Andrews slammed the laws and said the deal is not a threat
China has accused Australia of ‘putting bacteria’ in the relationship between the two nations after Scott Morrison tabled a plan to scrap Victoria’s controversial Belt and Road agreement with Beijing.
Premier Daniel Andrews signed the Chinese Communist Party initiative in 2018 after secret negotiations to drive jobs growth and boost Sino-Victorian investment.
But senior members of the Australian federal government are highly skeptical of the authoritarian regime’s push to finance and build a global trade and infrastructure network.
The Belt and Road Initiative, since it was announced by Xi Jinping in 2013, has been viewed from abroad as a Chinese propaganda campaign to snatch power and influence by piling developing nations with unsustainable levels of debt.
It comes as federal MP and former Australian Defence Minister Kevin Andrews accused Xi’s totalitarian government of ‘trampling on human dignity and on human rights in China’.
Victoria’s Belt and Road deal will also be examined. Pictured: Premier Daniel Andrews and Chinese ambassador Jingye Cheng
The prime minister wants new laws to stop states and territories signing deals with foreign powers that go against Australia’s national interest
When asked in Beijing on Thursday about the Australian government’s plan to tear up Victoria’s deal, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian sang the praises of the initiative and lashed out at Canberra.
‘We hope Australia will view such cooperation objectively and reasonably, and stop putting bacteria into this relationship and do more to improve our mutual benefits,’ The Australian reported.
‘China’s cooperation with the Victorian state under the BRI has enhanced the benefits for people on both sides of the deal.’
Several federal politicians, fearing the expansion of Chinese power and influence, have urged the Victorian government to scrap its deal under China’s Belt and Road Initiative – but it has refused.
Under the proposed Foreign Relations Bill, the Foreign Minister will be able to terminate the deal and any private contracts that are part of it.
Once the law is in place, governments and universities will have six months to reveal their foreign deals to the foreign minister, who will then decide which ones must be stopped.
Daniel Andrews (pictured in China’s Tiananmen Square) signed a deal with China under the country’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative in October 2018
Sydney’s partnership with the Chinese city of Guangzhou will also come under scrutiny. Pictured: Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore welcomes Guangzhou Vice Mayor Mr Wang Dong
The law will cover dozens of deals with China and other nations including India and Israel in areas such as culture, education, health, science, tourism, infrastructure and even sister-city arrangements.
It will also require states get approval from the federal government to start negotiating a foreign deal and seek approval again when the negotiations are done.
Under current laws, states can make a deal and not even tell the foreign minister for three months.
Daniel Andrews caused outrage by only telling the Morrison government about his Belt and Road agreement on the day it was signed.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton described the Belt and Road Initiative as ‘a propaganda initiative from China’ that could lead to an ‘enormous amount of foreign interference’.
He said: ‘Victoria needs to explain why it is the only state in the country that has entered into this agreement.’
The Belt and Road Initiative is a Chinese plan to establish maritime trade routes and invest in infrastructure projects around the world, set up by President Xi Xinping (pictured) in 2013
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (pictured) is an example of a project being financed by China under the country’s Belt and Road Initiative
In an August 13 video conference call to members of a Christian Church network, Kevin Andrews warned that Victoria was ‘playing into China’s propaganda.’
‘If we don’t stand up to it now, it’s going to do a lot more damage to the people of China and to the rest of the world,’ he said in the recording obtained by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday.
‘We’ve seen aggression in the China Sea, both the South China Sea and the East China Sea. We’ve seen more oppression in China. We’ve seen this bellicose nationalism from President Xi Jinping.
‘And we’ve seen people now being arrested in China, simply for proclaiming some sort of democratic rights and being told that they’re being treasonous to China.’
MP Kevin Andrews, who is now the chair of the human rights sub-committee of Australia’s joint standing committee on foreign affairs, defence and trade, said Uighur people, Hong Kongers and anyone seeking religious freedoms are being ‘trodden on’ by Chinese authorities.
But on Thursday, Premier Daniel Andrews hit back at the federal government and reiterated that the Belt and Road deal he had penned did not pose any national security threats.
The Victorian leader said he was only told about the Prime Minister’s plan last night and criticised him for not focusing on fighting coronavirus.
‘Well, look, if the Prime Minister has time to be doing those things, that’s fine for him,’ he said.
‘I don’t. I’m exclusively focused on fighting this virus.’
Mr Morrison countered by arguing: ”Australians rightly expect the federal government they elect to set foreign policy.’
‘These changes and new laws will ensure that every arrangement done by any Australian government at any level now lines up with how we are working to protect and promote Australia’s national interest.’
This graphic shows how the existing laws work. Under current laws, the state can make a foreign deal and not even tell the foreign minister for three months
This graphic shows how the new law will require states get approval from the federal government to start negotiating a foreign deal and seek approval again when the negotiations are done
It comes amid increasing political and economic tensions between Australia and China.
Beijing and Canberra have been at loggerheads after Australia led global calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus crisis.
Soon afterwards, China slapped an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley, suspended beef imports and told students and tourists not to travel Down Under in an apparent attempt to damage the Australian economy.
On Tuesday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg blocked a $600million bid by Chinese company Mengniu Dairy to buy Aussie drinks company Lion, citing national security concerns.
On Wednesday Wang Xining, deputy head of mission at the Chinese embassy in Canberra, said Chinese people felt deeply betrayed by Mr Morrison’s call for independent scientists to enter China and investigate coronavirus.
Daniel Andrews’ deal with China
In October 2018, the Victorian Labor government signed a memo of understanding with China under the country’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The BRI is a Chinese plan to establish maritime trade routes and invest in infrastructure projects around the world.
More than 170 memos of understanding have been signed with 125 countries.
Premier Andrews said he wanted to increase Chinese participation in Victorian building projects, manufacturing, and trade.
Pictured: Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Premier Li Keqiang on May 22
In October 2019, Mr Andrews reached a ‘framework agreement‘ with China that vowed to make a roadmap for cooperation on specific initiatives.
So far the roadmap has not been published.
Critics say the BRI is a tool to expand influence and power across the globe.
Federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie told Daily Mail Australia that Mr Andrews had ‘gone off the reservation by conducting his own foreign policy with China’.
As trade tensions with China mount, Mr Andrews has been urged to scrap the agreement, which he claims creates jobs for Victorians.
Michael Schoebridge of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said: ‘The Victorian government’s BRI activities are simply out of step with the new international and economic environment, including the now openly coercive directions that Beijing is taking with Canberra over trade and in government relations.’
Victorian Labor senator Kimberley Kitching, chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade References Committee, said: ‘The Victorian government should not have entered into an agreement with the Chinese government on the Belt and Road Initiative – it is bad policy and bad optics.’
‘All of a sudden, there was this shocking proposal from Australia, supposed to be a good friend of China,’ he said.
‘It is approximately identical to Julius Caesar on his final day when he saw Brutus approaching him and said et tu, Brute?’
Minister Wang admitted the virus was ‘first identified’ in China but said ‘we should leave the work to scientists’ to find out where patient zero came from.
The Communist Party official’s comments are at odds with the global scientific consensus that the deadly virus first originated at the Wuhan Seafood Market.
The Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 will be put before federal parliament next week in the hope it will be signed off this year.
Minister Wang Xining (pictured) poses for a photo at the National Press Club in Canberra
ScoMo’s crackdown: Some of the China deals under threat
2011 Memo of understanding (MOU) between the Government of Western Australia and the National Development and Reform Commission of China on Promotion of Investment Cooperation
2013 MOU between NSW and Beijing on Trade and Economy, Culture, Education, Science and Technology, Tourism and Sport
2014 MOU between Queensland Department of Environment and Science and Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology
2016 Shandong-South Australia Science and Technology Commercialisation Cooperation Platform
2017 MOU on Antarctic Gateway Cooperation between the Government of Tasmania and the State Oceanic Administration of China
2018 MOU between Victoria and China’s National Development and Reform Commission within the Belt and Road Initiative
2014 MOU between the city of Sydney and Guangzhou, relating to education, trade, culture, business and sustainability
2018 MOU between Mildura City Council and the Wuhan Institute of Technology
2019 MOU of establishing strategic partnership of cooperation for trade and investment between Nanjing Bureau of Commerce and City of Melbourne
2015 MOU for the establishment of a Shandong-South Australian Local Government Economic Development Cooperation Forum
2017 MOU between ANU and the University of South China on research collaboration on fusion energy technology
2019 MOU between UNSW and Qingdoa City to establish the Qingdao International Academician Park (QIAP)
2019 Agreement to establishing the Monash Technology Transformation Institute in the Pingshan District of Shenzhen
2019 University of Queensland agreement with the Confucius Institute on its Headquaters in China