Morrison scraps Victoria’s Belt and Road deal with China
Victoria's controversial Belt and Road contract with China has been ripped up by the federal government, who ruled the deal was not in Australia's national interest.
Four Victorian agreements - two relating to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and two others with Iran and Syria - were vetoed by Foreign Minister Marise Payne last night (WED) under sweeping powers introduced last year amid fears national security was being compromised by lower tiers of government.
The new laws require Ms Payne to review all agreements states, territories, local governments or universities enter into with a foreign government and rule on their risk to Australia's interests.
In a statement Ms Payne said the government would cancel both the Memorandum of Understanding and the Framework Agreement between the Victorian Government and the National Development and Reform Commission of China regarding the BRI, signed in 2018 and 2019.
She also cancelled a deal between Victorian TAFE and its Iranian counterpart signed in 2004, and a science cooperation agreement between Victoria and Syria's higher education ministries in 1999.
"I consider these four arrangements to be inconsistent with Australia's foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations," she said.
Victoria's BRI deal with China would have meant increased cooperation and investment between the two on infrastructure, innovation and trade.
China has been accused of using the BRI for "debt trap diplomacy" - extending credit to countries that will struggle to pay it back - as well as using deals to undercut other companies for infrastructure bids.
Ms Payne said she had already reviewed more than 1,000 agreements since the laws began in December and expected the "overwhelming majority" of them to "remain unaffected".
It comes as China's deputy ambassador in Australia controversially claimed Beijing had not done anything "intentionally" to hurt the relationship, despite slapping trade sanctions on major exports.
Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday Wang Xining said there were instead "many incidents" where China's interest had been "hurt" by Australia.
This week a new Human Rights Watch report accused China of "crimes against humanity" for its treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, an allegation Mr Wang denied.
The discussion was hosted by NPC President and ABC 7.30 political reporter Laura Tingle, who was initially greeted by Mr Wang with a kiss on the hand.
But he was less enthusiastic when Ms Tingle asked him why a Uighur woman who was also an Australian citizen had been unable to speak to her husband who had been jailed for 25-years in Xinjiang for no clear reason.
Mr Wang pivoted instead, saying the "whole Chinese nation" cared about the welfare of Uighurs.
"We want every ethnic group to thrive, to live a good life, and we know how to deal with it well," he said.
Originally published as Morrison scraps Victoria's Belt and Road deal with China