Australia ends China deals on national interest grounds

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has cancelled two Chinese “Belt and Road” infrastructure building initiative deals with a state government, provoking an angry response from Beijing.

The bilateral deals with Victoria state were among four vetoed under new laws that give the federal government power to overrule international agreements by lower-level administrations that violate the national interest, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said late Wednesday.

The “Belt and Road” deals struck with Beijing in 2018 and 2019 triggered the legislative response.

Victoria Education Department pacts signed with Syria in 1999 and Iran in 2004 were also canceled.

“I consider these four arrangements to be inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations,” Payne said.

The Chinese Embassy in Australia said in a statement the decision “further shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations.”

“It is bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself,” the embassy said on Thursday, referring to the Australian government.

Global Times, the Chinese Communist Party’s English-language mouthpiece, said in a headline: “Australia faces serious consequences for unreasonable provocation against China.”

The move “marks a significant escalation that could push icy bilateral relations into an abyss,” the newspaper added.

Australia’s bilateral relations with its most important trading partner are at their lowest point in decades. Chinese government ministers refuse to take phone calls from their Australian counterparts, and trade disruptions are widely seen as China imposing economic punishment.

But Payne said Thursday she did not expect China would retaliate.

“Australia is operating in our national interests. We are very careful and very considered in that approach.” Payne told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“It’s about ensuring that we have a consistent approach to foreign policy across all levels of government, and it isn’t about any one country,” she said. “It is most certainly not intended to harm Australia’s relationships with any countries.”

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