The U.S. Secretary of State says the United States will “simply disconnect” with Australia if the Victorian state's Belt and Road partnership with Beijing presents any risk to telecommunications infrastructure.
“We will not take any risk to our telecommunications infrastructure, any risk to national security elements with our Five Eyes partners. We are going to protect and preserve the security of those institutions,” he said.
“I don’t know the nature of those (Victoria’s) projects precisely, but to the extent they have an adverse impact on our ability to protect telecommunications from our private citizens, or security networks for our defence, or intelligence communities, we will simply disconnect, we will simply separate,” Pompeo said.
“We are going to trusted networks for important information. We hope our friends, partners, allies around the world, especially allies like Australia, will do the same.”
Pompeo also warned Australia that projects that form part of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) need to be looked at carefully, and every project from BRI had a “cost to it.”
“Often money is loaned at concessional rates, or conditions are placed in debt documents, or government concessions have to be made to the Chinese Communist Party in order to get those (BRI) projects built,” Pompeo said.
“(They) present real risks to the people, and real risk to the country. Frankly, they build up the capacity of the (CCP) to do harm in other ways as well.”
Victoria’s BRI at Odds With Federal PolicyVictoria’s involvement in the BRI has been a consistent source of controversy, as it has placed the state at odds with the federal government’s stance on the program.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a press conference on May 24 that the federal government did not support Victoria's actions.
“National interest issues on foreign affairs are determined by the federal government," Morrison said.
“I respect their jurisdiction when it comes to the issues they are responsible for, and it’s always been the usual practice for states to respect and recognise the role of the federal government in setting foreign policy.
“I think that’s always been a good practice.”
Dutton said he was “gravely concerned,” citing a series of issues involving the Chinese communist regime, including its claims in the South China Sea, its militarisation of ports in the Asia Pacific, and its attempts to “buy influence” in Australia.
“Victoria needs to explain why it’s the only state in the country that has entered into this relationship,” he said.
Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells told The Epoch Times on May 11 that the BRI was “skulduggery” by the Chinese communist regime and it was “code” for debt-trap diplomacy.
“Those leading our ‘fellow traveller’ foreign policy over many years and those doing business with China have preferred to turn a blind eye to CCP’s skulduggery so long as cash flows were maintained,” said Fierravanti-Wells.
"Fellow traveller" refers to individuals who are not communists, yet sympathise with the Chinese Communist Party's goals and policies.
Telecommunications Is the New Vanguard of BRIUnited States-based defence think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), published a paper on April 13, highlighting how the Chinese communist regime has been actively advancing the digital component of the BRI (Digital Silk Road) even as the country suffers from the pandemic.
In the current global climate, the CCP has found it easier to advance the Digital Silk Road rather than the BRI, particularly in developing countries.
The CSIS found it was “lower cost, easier to deliver, and easier to monetise” than traditional construction projects. It was also less likely to stoke resentment from local communities.
The CSIS found that 60 percent of projects in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)—a flagship of the BRI—has been mired in delays, including pipeline and railway projects.
However, in the digital space, Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei was able to lay 820 kilometres of fiber-optic cable across the China-Pakistan border and deep into the country in less than two years.
“The project cost just US$44 million—less than it costs to build only four kilometres of railway in Pakistan,” the report stated.
“Given Pakistan’s mounting debt, the second phase of CPEC, much like the future of the BRI, will place a greater emphasis on smaller, higher-tech projects.”