Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he hadn’t been expecting reports that China and the Australian state of Victoria had signed an agreement signalling the latter’s participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Morrison told the reporters he was “surprised” Victoria’s government would make a decision on a “matter of international relations” without discussing it with the federal government first, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
“They know full well our policy on those issues and I thought that was not a very cooperative or helpful way to do things on such issues,” Morrison said.
Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews said that the deal with China would allow local businesses to become “one step closer to unlocking the trade and investment opportunities of China’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative.”
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The deal comes less than two weeks before Victoria’s state elections. However, it also set a precedent, for China to make deals with a state government.
“I think this is a big part of Beijing’s agenda, to say to other states and territories that were the last to sign up will be bad. That would be consistent with Beijing’s approach with other negotiations internationally,” said Michael Shoebridge, director of the defence and strategy program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank.
Canberra could object to Victoria’s decision to sign the initiative, but the federal government has also signed a memorandum of understanding with China, as well as an agreement signed by then-trade minister Steven Ciobo in September, which would allow Australia and China to cooperate on infrastructure projects in other countries under the Belt and Road Initiative.
The Victorian government initially refused to divulge the contents of the deal it had signed with Beijing; however, it published a four-page memorandum of understanding with China, which contains the areas and modes of cooperation with China.
Similar deals made by China under the Belt and Road Initiative have tended to be large in scale. Following orders from President Xi Jinping, China has pledged trillions of dollars over the past five years toward the construction of roads, power plants and ports throughout Asia, Africa and Europe as a part of the initiative, with the requirement that Chinese companies be heavily involved in planning and construction and Chinese employees be brought in for work.