A top Australian official said Thursday that China’s Belt and Road Initiative agreements have been used “for propaganda”, adding that he supported Canberra’s decision to cancel the state government’s agreement with Beijing.
Australia on Wednesday overturned Victoria’s decision to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a symbol of President Xi Jinping’s geopolitical vision for the Asia-Pacific region – saying the deal was inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy.
As relations between the two countries continue to deteriorate, Defense Minister Peter Dutton said Canberra was “concerned” that the local government would sign such an agreement with Beijing.
He told local radio that “We can’t allow these types of connections to pop-up because they’re being used for publicity and we’re not letting that happen.”.
The government’s problem was not with the Chinese people, but with “values or qualities or the attitude of the Chinese Communist Party, said Dutton.
Australia applied new force last year – targeting China – allowing state authorities and foreign countries to rescind any agreement that poses a threat to national interests.
Canberra’s first target was the BRI, a broad network of investments that critics say cover Beijing for geopolitical and financial uplift.
In a statement issued early Thursday, the Chinese embassy in Australia called it an “unreasonable and provocative” move.
The statement added, “Bilateral relations are bound to do more harm, and only harm itself.”
Dutton said he would be “very disappointed” if China retaliated by saying “Australia will not be fooled by anyone”.
He added that “We’re going to stand up for what we believe in, and that’s exactly what we’ve done here.”
China has already exceeded tariffs on more than a dozen Australian industries, including wine, barley and coal, which many see as a punishment for Canberra’s growing stance against its largest trading partner.
Australia angered China by calling for an independent investigation into the source of the coronavirus epidemic, and banned telecom giant Huawei from tightening foreign investment laws to build and ban Australia’s 5G network.
Other agreements between foreign powers and local governments are still under consideration and Canberra may still notice the presence of Chinese-backed Confucius Institutes in Australian public universities.
Critics say some organizations have become the subject of controversy on campus, promoting the Communist Party’s self-serving version of Chinese culture and history.