MELBOURNE, Australia—Australians have called on the Victorian Labor government to terminate the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreement after calls for transparency related to the agreement were ignored.
Approximately 200 people rallied on the steps of Victoria parliament on Dec. 15 to voice their concerns over what many have described being as a “dud deal” agreement.
Speaking at the event titled “Standing against Daniel Andrews Belt & Road signing,” was Edward O’Donoghue MP, the Liberal party member of the Victorian Legislative Council for Eastern Victoria. He said that Labor Premier Daniel Andrews did not go through the proper consultative process when he signed Victoria up for the BRI. The event was co-sponsored by Australia Hong-Kong Link and Victoria Hongkongers.
“This is a deal that Daniel Andrews has signed us up to—a deal that should have been negotiated by the federal government, not by the state government,” O’Donoghue said. “It’s a dud deal. A dud deal for Victoria.”
O’Donoghue added that countries such as Africa, including countries in Asia, and the South Pacific that have signed up with the BRI have now become an arm of the Chinese regime. In several countries, including Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, locals have accused the BRI of being a platform to serve the CCP’s interests through debt-trap diplomacy.
“We’re seeing that in Africa, in Asia and the South Pacific—the way the Chinese government has used the BRI [is] not just for economic leverage and economic growth, but for political and geopolitical leverage as well,” he said. “It’s a strategic document. It’s about strategic leverage for the Chinese government, and we’re seeing that already.”
Victoria is currently the only state in Australia to have formally expressed its support for China’s BRI, also known as the One Belt One Road project.
On Oct. 23, Labor Premier Daniel Andrews signed a new deal with the Chinese regime and its BRI, and urged the Australian government to follow suit, reported The Sydney Morning Herald. The new deal follows a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the BRI that was signed on Oct. 25, 2018, between Andrews and China’s Ambassador Cheng Jingye.
Morgan Jonas, co-organizer for the rally, said his concerns over the signing of the memorandum were echoed by many Australians, including many political leaders.
Jonas added that the Labor premier’s ambitious infrastructure agenda requires large funding—funding that Victoria cannot afford and doesn’t have.
“This could explain why Daniel Andrews seemingly rushed the decision to seek out a new line of Chinese finance via the BRI,” Jonas said.
Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton questioned whether the new deal was conducive to the national interest.
“Why does he believe this is in our national interest? Why does he believe it’s in Victoria’s interest?” Dutton said. “It’s a decision that’s been made by Mr. Andrews, so he can justify the decision. I haven’t heard the rationale or the reasoning behind what seemed to be a pretty rushed decision.”
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the Premier shrugged off concerns about Victoria strengthening its ties with the Chinese regime.
“We need a strong partnership,” Andrews said. “Victoria has one, and we would hope that every state and territory and indeed the Commonwealth would have a strong partnership and a friendship with China.”
David Limbrick, Liberal Democratic Party member of the Victorian Legislative Council, said that though he supports free trade, the BRI does not constitute free trade.
“… let me be very clear. A deal with the Chinese Communist Party has nothing to do with free trade—it is all about strategic interest,” he said.
Peter Westmore, president of the National Civic Council, added he does not want to see Victoria enlisted in the BRI.
“We do not need the cooperation of Chinese corporations in the running of Victorian infrastructure projects. We want to make sure that the government of Victoria is totally independent of foreign political influences,” Westmore said.
Bernie Finn, a Liberal party member of the Victorian Legislative Council for the Western Metropolitan region, expressed his concerns for Victoria at the rally.
“What are we owing the Chinese government for perhaps generations to come? We don’t know. How long before the Chinese government says ‘We’ll have the metro tunnel.’ It might even be before it actually gets opened.”
Fiona Hui, a Hong Kong-born Australian citizen and organizer for a petition calling for ASIO to investigate Daniel Andrews’ role in the BRI, said that under the digital and financial cooperation of the BRI, Huawei may soon be introduced in Victoria.
“Let’s not be naive, the belt and road, and Huawei goes hand in hand together. When there’s belt and road, there is Huawei. You watch, I hope that Victoria is not going to have the Huawei network in the next year or two.”
Hui’s petition has collected approximately 16,000 signatures since it started on Nov. 2.
Hui added that Huawei is now allowed in Perth trains, as well as the NSW public transport network, and called on the Australian public to lobby against this occurring in Victoria.
“According to the current contract, it can be terminated. [Daniel Andrews] has to do it right now. Please continue to speak out about the Chinese influence in Australia,” Hui said.
“I hope Victoria is not the next victim, but it is looking quite likely if the citizens remain quiet.”
Mimi Nguyen Ly and Katabella Roberts contributed to this report.