Beijing-Linked Firms to Control Islands Off East, West Coasts of Australia

March 12, 2021 2:23, Last Updated: March 12, 2021 16:07
By Caden Pearson

Firms linked to Beijing now control leases on two islands, off the east and west coasts of Australia, reportedly sparking concerns in Canberra about the national security risks.

The Western Australia Labor government approved the lease on Cockatoo Island for a Hong Kong firm with ties to Beijing last year. This comes after the Queensland Labor government on the opposite east coast approved a lease to another Hong Kong firm for Keswick Island.

Cockatoo Island is 2,000 kilometres from Perth, Western Australia’s capital, and the island includes an airstrip. The facility fell into disuse in 2015, and according to the ABC, Western Australia’s Department of Mines registry approved the new lease by a Hong Kong firm last year. It will expire in 2032.

Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells told the ABC, a public broadcaster, that she was alarmed by the lease agreement.

Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (right) during Senate Business in the Senate at Parliament House on June 17, 2020, in Canberra, Australia. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

“The Cockatoo Island ‘transaction’ is yet another example of why the acquisition of strategic assets from governments in Australia by ‘private companies’ with links to Beijing should come within the scope of both FIRB and foreign relation legislation,” Fierravanti-Wells said.

FIRB is the Foreign Relations Review Board which assesses deals in which a foreign entity purchases Australian interests.

“This ‘transaction’ is another glaring example of our defective federal laws,” Fierravanti-Wells, a New South Wales senator, argued.

Informing her concerns are Chinese laws that require private companies, along with state-owned enterprises, to share data with Beijing’s military, the PLA. This creates the risk that every Chinese company that has dealings with Australian entities and individuals would be compelled under Beijing’s law to share information with the PLA.

George Christensen speaks at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on Dec. 7, 2017. (Michael Masters/Getty Images)

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, in its “Leaping Across the Ocean” report, warned Canberra that Chinese state-owned enterprises could be utilised by the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) during peacetime for “grey zone” actions, and, more concerningly, during wartimes to aid the PLA.

Grey zone activities are actions that fall just below the threshold to be considered acts of war.

Echoing Fierravanti-Wells’ concerns, federal Liberal MP George Christensen, from Queensland, took to Facebook to speak out against the deal.

“Another State Labor Government has given away an island to a Chinese company. This time there might be implications for our national security,” Christensen wrote.

Christensen has championed a campaign to reclaim Keswick Island after the Queensland government approved the lease to a Hong Kong developer, also with links to Beijing, for 99 years.

Concerns Over National Security

The Department of Defence might also have cause for concern, as the island is adjacent to the Yampi Sound Defence Training Area on the Kimberley coast, the ABC reported.

A Department of Defence spokesperson told The Epoch Times on March 13 that it does not comment on potential, current, or past Foreign Investment Review Board cases.

“Defence has a multi-layered approach to managing security across its estate, which includes addressing security risks through protective security, contractual arrangements, and legislative protections—these arrangements are regularly reviewed and adjusted,” the spokesperson said in an email. “Defence does not comment on the detailed security arrangements at individual Defence facilities.”

The ABC reported that a Defence spokesperson said the Yampi Sound Training Area was predominantly used for land and vehicle-based training activities and has a range of security mechanisms in place.

“The Government does not comment on the foreign investment screening arrangements as they apply, or may apply, to particular cases,” the spokesperson said.

The approval of the lease now means there are three islands very close to Australia that are either held or proposed to be held, in some form by Chinese entities with links to Beijing—one in the northwest and one in the northeast (both with airstrips).

The third is Papua New Guinea’s Daru Island, 200 kilometres north of Queensland, where Beijing wants to build a city and fishing facility and an airport.

Follow Caden on Twitter: @cadenpearson

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