The broader strategic aims of China’s Belt and Road program and the communist nation’s predatory expansion ambitions should be no surprise to any Australian member of Parliament since its risks were included in a Parliamentary Briefing Book published in 2016.
Designed to familiarise newly elected members of the Australian Parliament and Senate on government policy, the briefing book also alerts MPs to international issues that could pose a risk to Australia’s national interests.
Included in the 45th issue of the briefing book is a report on Belt and Road written by Geoff Wade, a visiting fellow from the Australian National University.
Wade outlined the risks around Belt and Road, noting that China has been criticised for using its massive financial assets to dominate smaller economies and to gain long-term economic and physical control over geographical regions.
Belt and Road is an Economic and Military Strategy
Alerting MPs to the phenomenon of “circular lending,” the brief spoke about how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses Belt and Road projects to fund state-owned businesses.
This means the CCP essentially funnells loans back into Chinese firms and leaves partner countries to pay high amounts of interest without the benefits of the fiscal stimulus to the economy.
When countries’ debts then become too much for them to repay China uses this as leverage to gain long-term control over infrastructure, natural resources, and land in countries that the CCP wants for its economic and military interests.
According to Wade, “It has been repeatedly noted in China that OBOR (One Belt One Road) is also intended as a regional security mechanism, and the future role of the People’s Liberation Army in protecting China’s OBOR facilities abroad has been widely discussed.”
The brief states that the CCP portrays Belt and Road as a way to support its claims in the South China Sea where it is attempting a militarised land grab. It is also working to secure strategic control over shipping in the Indian Ocean.
Australia More Cautious About Chinese Investment
Advising Australia to maintain a close watch on the Belt and Road Initiative around the world, the 2016 Parliamentary Briefing Book suggested that Australia take a more cautious approach to the Australia-China economic relationship.
Since 2016, the federal government has blocked six Chinese investment bids for being against Australia’s national interest.
On Sep.19 2019, Reuters reported that from 2016-2019 the government blocked Chinese led investment into Australian beef production, the electricity grid, natural gas, and Huawei’s bid for the 5G network.
On April 27, 2020, the Australian Financial Review reported that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had blocked a $14.1 million investment in Australia’s AVZ Minerals Lithium and Tin project and a $20 million stake in Northern Minerals rare earth project in Western Australia.