As relations between China and Australia went downhill, Beijing has been trying to initiate economic action against Australia. Recently, China slapped 80 percent tariff on Australian Barley in an attempt to damage Australia’s massive Barley industry. But as relations deteriorate, Australia could give a stinging blow to China by scrapping the $107 billion BRI project in the Australian state of Victoria.
China was desperate to get Australia onboard the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but failed to secure the Federal government’s support. For China, the presence in Australia is now limited to its BRI project in the Victoria state of Australia and the Darwin Port in Northern Territory.
These projects are of course, incompatible with Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s anti-China stance. Within Victoria, Australia, Premier Daniel Andrews has faced the opposition’s ire which has promised that it will scrap the BRI project if voted to power.
To make matters worse for Daniel Andrews, even his own party- the Labor Party doesn’t support the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Michael O’Brien, Opposition leader in Victoria even said, “What is it going to take for Daniel Andrews to listen.” He added, “The federal Labor Party doesn’t support Belt and Road, the unions don’t support Belt and Road, no other premier supports Belt and Road.”
The fact that Andrews doesn’t scrap the project even though the Federal Labor Party opposes it goes on to show how deep Chinese influence can be on local politicians in Australia.
Daniel Andrews still supports the Chinese infrastructure project claiming that Victoria will attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
But pressure keeps mounting on Andrews as no one really buys his argument that the Chinese infrastructure project will bring much-needed jobs to Victoria.
It is more or less agreed within Australian media and political circles that the BRI project is all about the Communist Party of China (CCP) seeking greater political influence down under.
Reflecting upon this sentiment, O’Brien said, “Daniel Andrews is out on his own and the reason he’s out on his own is that this is a dud deal for Victoria.”
Victoria’s BRI project that is being increasingly described within Australia as a strategic blunder, and rightly so. The project has major foreign policy repercussions for Canberra.
Even the United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said that the United States wouldn’t hesitate to “disconnect” from Australia if Victoria’s BRI project threatens its telecom security.
This has led to Andrews facing pressure from all quarters though he still doesn’t relent. Victoria was expected to agree to a “co-operation road map” to confirm its ties with China after a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed in the year 2018.
Premier Daniel Andrews however suggests there could be a pushback. He said, “It’s fair to say people’s focus was on a global pandemic rather than necessarily some of those issues.” He added, “But when we’re in a position to make further announcements, we will.”
Meanwhile, the Scott Morrison government is also stepping up the pressure as it is looking to toughen FDI investment regulations, with an eye on China.
The Morrison government is looking to protect its assets from overseas entities if they threaten national security. By blocking such investments, the Federal government in Australia might want to scrap the 99-year lease of the Darwin Port in Australia to a Chinese company as well as the BRI project agreement between the Victorian state government and Beijing.
It is only a matter of time before Daniel Andrews gives in to the extensive pressure of his Labor colleagues and the Federal government. He is being accused of blindsiding the Federal government on the sensitive project and selling out Australia’s national interest to Beijing. There is a limited amount of criticism that he will be able to take before caving in.
Moreover, Victoria is also set for elections two years down the line in 2022 and the Liberal Party is already promising that it will scrap the BRI project if voted to power. In all certainty, Andrews will either yield or lose power. China tried to harass Australia with Barley tariffs and now Australia is ready to give China a 107 billion dollars jolt.