China’s Belt and Road Not in ‘National Interest’: Australian Senator

April 30, 2020 Updated: May 7, 2020

Victorian Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson has called on Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews to pull out of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Henderson said the BRI was not in Australia’s national interest, considering the fallout from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, commonly known as novel coronavirus.

Writing on Facebook on April 30, Henderson said: “Victoria’s #BeltandRoad initiative is not in our national interest, not consistent with our economic sovereignty and the wrong road for our state. Dan Andrews should cancel these deals.”

First announced in 2013 by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the BRI seeks to increase investment and trade links between China and the world mainly through joint infrastructure projects.

There has been a backlash in many countries, however, including Sierra Leone, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, where locals are saying the program is nothing more than a debt-trap.

In October 2018, Andrews signed an initial Memorandum of Understanding (pdf) to be involved in the BRI. The federal government had not signed up and Victoria was the only state or territory to do so.

In October 2019, Andrews flew to China to sign a second agreement, which outlined opportunities for Chinese companies to be part of Victoria’s $107 billion infrastructure program and apparently gave Victorian companies “inside running” on projects in China.

Andrews emphasised the relationship between China and Victoria saying, “We don’t see China as our good customers, we see them as our good friends.”

The move was criticised then by Home Affairs Ministers Peter Dutton who told reporters on Oct. 23, 2019, “Why does he believe this is in our national interest? Why does he believe it’s in Victoria’s interest?”

Senator Henderson said the premier did not “explain in any detail” why Victoria was signed up to the agreement, even when foreign interference was currently a major issue for the federal government.

Henderson said the BRI was wrong for Victoria and backed the foreign minister’s calls for an inquiry into the virus.

“A full, transparent and comprehensive independent inquiry is in the interests of all countries including China.”