Australia Cancels Controversial ‘Belt and Road’ Deals with China

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 11: Prime Minister Scott Morrison reacts during a press conference in the Prime Ministers courtyard on December 11, 2020 in Canberra, Australia. Clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Queensland in partnership with biotech company CSL will be abandoned, after the …
Sam Mooy/Getty

Australia tore up a set of agreements Wednesday linked to the contentious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with Beijing. The move is sure to provoke fury in China which has previously warned Canberra it will become the “poor white trash of Asia” unless it stops pushing back against the ruling Communist Party.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne issued a statement to announce the two controversial BRI deals were among four cancelled under Australia’s new Foreign Arrangements Scheme.

The cancellation was later confirmed by Australian government representatives posted overseas.

The other two were older agreements with Iranian and Syrian entities, canceled because they were “inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations.”

It’s the first time the new powers have been used by the conservative coalition government led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, but Australian leaders have previously shown no hesitation in standing up to Chinese political and economic influence.

More than 1,000 existing and proposed foreign arrangements have been put to Payne by states and territories, local governments and public universities since the review launched on December 10.

ABC News reports Payne said she considered the China BRI arrangements with the southern state of Victoria to be “inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy” or “adverse to our foreign relations”.

“I will continue to consider foreign arrangements notified under the scheme,” she said. “I expect the overwhelming majority of them to remain unaffected.

“I look forward to ongoing collaboration with states, territories, universities and local governments in implementing the Foreign Arrangements Scheme.”

The BRI is a massive network of Chinese-funded infrastructure projects — including new ports, pipelines, railways and highways — stretching from Asia to Europe and considered a key part of Xi Jinping’s desire to link Beijing with the global economy.

But Australia has become increasingly anxious that it has been used as a vehicle for cementing the Chinese Communist government’s influence and commercial interests across a vast swathe of the globe.

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