Chinese-backed Landbridge’s plans to build a six-star hotel across from the controversial Port of Darwin has been scuttled after the Northern Territory (NT) government refused to extend its lease.
The site is situated on prime waterfront land, adjacent to apartments and the Darwin cruise ship terminal.
Landbridge had originally earmarked the site for a $200 million Westin Hotel but had stopped construction 10 months ago and said it was unlikely to continue construction if works did not restart in June 2021.
With the deadline passed, the NT government reclaimed the site and will look for new developers instead.
“Today is the first-day Landbridge’s option to extend its lease of the Waterfront hotel site expires,” NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner told NT News.
“We will now look for a new builder of a luxury hotel at the site,” he added. “I have asked for the process to be paused until we come out of lockdown.”
The Chinese state-owned Landbridge is under intense scrutiny for its 2015, 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin for $506 million, which was facilitated by the then-governing Country Liberal Party.
At the time, the billionaire owner of Landbridge, Ye Cheng, boasted that acquiring the Port would assist with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The BRI is the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) trillion-dollar global infrastructure building fund and arguably the “crown jewel” of Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions. However, it has been criticised for extending massive loans to developing nations, many of which cannot service the debts.
For example, in 2017, the Sri Lankan government agreed to hand over its Hambantota Port to the CCP on a 99-year lease after agreeing to convert its $1.4 billion debt into equity.
In April, the Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne terminated two BRI agreements signed between Victorian Premier Dan Andrews and Beijing’s National Development and Reform Commission, citing national security concerns.
The Foreign Relations Act, which grants the foreign minister the power to review and potentially cancel similar deals, has opened the door for other agreements signed with CCP-affiliated entities to face the axe.
The Port of Darwin lease has been a long-running concern for political leaders.
Recently, Federal MPs George Christensen and Bob Katter both called on the federal Parliament to cancel the deal.