The United States threatens to CUT OFF Australia after Victoria ignored security advice to join a controversial trade deal with China
The U.S. warns it will ‘simply disconnect’ from Australia if Victoria sucking up to China becomes a security risk.
Premier Daniel Andrews signed up to the controversial Belt and Road Initiative that provides loans and investment in infrastructure projects.
Victoria is the only Australian state to sign the agreement and has been widely criticised for doing so.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to cut Australia off from vital intelligence sharing if the deal compromised telecommunications.
Premier Daniel Andrews signed up to the controversial Belt and Road Initiative that provides loans and investment in infrastructure projects
‘We will not take any risks to our telecommunications infrastructure, any risk to the national security elements of what we need to do with our Five Eyes partners,’ he said on Sky News.
‘I don’t know the nature of those projects precisely. To the extent they have an adverse impact on our ability to protect telecommunications from our private citizens, or security networks for our defence and intelligence communities – we simply disconnect, we will simply separate.
‘We are going to preserve trust in networks… we hope our friends and allies, especially our Five Eyes partners like Australia, do the same.’
The Five Eyes is an intelligence sharing alliance between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Britain, and the U.S.
The Belt and Road scheme is a non-legally binding agreement to mutually beneficial trade, investment, and infrastructure.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened to cut Australia off from vital intelligence sharing if Victoria’s deal with China compromised telecommunications
China helps invest in infrastructure projects, particularly in developing Asian and Pacific Island countries, with loans and support.
It is criticised by Western governments as a stealthy expansion of Chinese influence, and as a means to trap smaller countries into debt Beijing then uses as leverage.
Countries also become economically dependent on Beijing because of the amount of investment pouring in crowds out other sources.
Victoria went ahead with the agreement against the position of the federal government and security agencies.
‘Every citizen of Australia that should know that everyone of those Belt and Road projects need to be looked at incredibly closely,’ Mr Pompeo said.
‘It is the case, some of them may just be straight up commercial transactions, if so, fine, but nearly each one of them has some cost to it.
‘There is often money loaned at concessional rates, or conditions placed on the debt documents, or concessions that have to be made to the Chinese communist party in order to get those Belt and Road Initiatives projects built.
‘Those present real risk, real risk to the people in that region, real risk to country and frankly they build up the capacity of the Chinese communist party to do harm elsewhere.’
Belt and Road is s criticised by Western governments as a stealthy expansion of Chinese influence (Chinese President Xi Jinping pictured), and as a means to trap smaller countries into debt Beijing then uses as leverage
Prime Minister Scott Morrison renewed his condemnation of Mr Andrews for signing up to the Chinese program.
‘We didn’t support that decision at the time they made it and national interest issues on foreign affairs are determined by the federal government,’ he said.
‘I respect their jurisdiction on the issues for which they’re responsible for. And it has always been the usual practice for states to respect and recognise the role of the federal government in setting foreign policy.
‘And I think that’s been a good practice.’
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has also derided Belt and Roads as a ‘propaganda exercise’ by China.
‘Victoria needs to explain why it is really the only state in the country that has entered into this agreement,’ he said on 2GB.
Mr Andrews blew off Mr Pomeo’s warning as he hadn’t seen the interview, and defended the agreement as a boost to Victorian jobs.
‘With the greatest of respect, I’m not in the habit of commenting on what people tell me other people have said,’ he told News Corp.
‘I would want to see Secretary Pomeo’s comments out of respect for him and his office before I make any comment on that.’
‘It is all about Victorian jobs… We will continue to work at a strong partnership. It doesn’t mean we agree on everything, there are many things we don’t agree on.’
Mr Andrews said having a strong partnership with China was ‘in everybody’s interests’.
His office later provided a statement holding its ground but pledging not to involve the scheme in telecommunications projects.
‘Telecommunications regulation is the responsibility of the commonwealth government,’ a spokeswoman said.
‘Victoria has not, and will not in the future, agree to telecommunications projects under the BRI.’
Mr Andrew’s office said Belt and Road would: ‘create opportunities for Victorian businesses and local jobs – opportunities that will be more important than ever as we rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic’.
Mr Andrews also backed up extraordinary comments by his treasurer Tim Pallas that Mr Morrison’s call for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus ‘vilified China’.
‘Yes. Any other issues?’ he said on Sunday when asked if he supported Mr Pallas’ comments.
Mr Pallas said the ban China last week on four of Australia’s biggest meat producers was an inevitable consequence of language that ‘vilified China’.
‘I think I’ve been pretty clear that I’m not a big fan of the way the federal government has managed the relationship with China more generally,’ he said.
‘I can’t hazard to speculate what goes on in the minds of leaders of other countries. All I can say is I don’t suppose it would come as a surprise to anybody that this was the consequences of the way that the federal government have conducted themselves.’
Mr Pallas said Victoria’s engagement with the BRI should ’absolutely not’ be paused while the coronavirus inquiry played out.
‘The inquiry, and of course there does need to be an inquiry into this pandemic event, but I think the idea of vilification of any single nation in this context, I think, is dangerous, damaging and probably irresponsible in many respects,’ he said.
‘What they don’t need is vilification of one nation who have gone through a very traumatic time themselves and need necessarily to recover their economy, and we see a partnership with all trading nations as being a vital part of the growth and the opportunity for Victorians.’
Mr Andrews initially refused to make the agreement with China public and only belatedly did so under public pressure during the election campaign.
The title of the ‘framework agreement’ signed in October is ‘Jointly Promoting the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road’.
This has been described but strategic experts as ‘boilerplate Chinese government language for the BRI, Xi Jinping’s strategy for growing Chinese power and creating a Sino-centred world’.
Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said Mr Andrews was ‘incredibly naive’ in his dealings with China.
‘Very few state officials have security clearances or the need to access information from our intelligence agencies and the national security establishment.
‘The result is state and territory governments tend to be incredibly naive when it comes to dealing with the PRC.’
What is the Belt and Road Initiative?
Unveiled in 2013 in Kazakhstan and Indonesia by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Belt and Road Initiative is the most ambitious infrastructure project in modern world history.
The multitrillion-dollar initiative involves hundreds of projects, most of them built by Chinese contractors and financed by loans from Chinese state-owned banks, across an arc of 65 countries from the South Pacific through Asia to Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping put their palms on a screen during a gas pipeline launching ceremony in Astana in 2013
The Belt and Road Initiative, essentially a Modern Silk Road, is made up of a ‘belt’ of six overland corridors that direct trade to and from China and a maritime ‘road’ of shipping routes and seaports from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean.
The initiative countries account for 40 per cent of global gross domestic product growth and 44 per cent of the world’s population, according to an analysis from Morgan Stanley.
As of July 2018, more than 100 countries and international organisations had signed Belt and Road cooperation documents with China, extending the initiative’s scope from the Eurasian continent to Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the South Pacific region.
The Chinese government calls the initiative ‘a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future’.
Other observes and critics, however, see it as a push for the country’s position as a global economic power with a China-centered trading network while burying some countries under massive debt.