‘Firmly and forcefully’: China threatens Australia over Belt and Road decision
By Eryk Bagshaw and Anthony Galloway
April 22, 2021 — 6.05pm
China has threatened retaliation over the federal government’s decision to cancel Victoria’s Belt and Road agreement as the move secured support across the political and security spectrums in Australia.
But senior Australian officials who were not authorised to speak on the record said Australia was prepared to wear China’s response given how the nation had survived the past year of economic coercion.
In the first official comments from the Chinese government since Wednesday night’s decision, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the move would deepen tensions between Canberra and Beijing. Australia is the first country to have scrapped a signed BRI agreement.
“China has made solemn representations to the Australian side and reserves the right to react further,” Mr Wang said.
“China urges Australia to immediately correct its mistake, immediately revoke the relevant wrong decision, and not to continue to rub salt on the wound of the already difficult Sino-Australian relations. Otherwise, China will definitely respond firmly and forcefully.”
The Victorian government largely remained silent on the issue on Thursday. Employment and Small Business Minister Jaala Pulford said the cancelling of the agreement would not have an adverse impact on the state’s pipeline of infrastructure projects.
Ms Pulford refused to be drawn on whether Victoria erred in signing the deal and whether it was, as the Commonwealth contends, inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy. She said she assumed the Commonwealth made its decision with an understanding of any potential ramifications, which could include further Chinese trade strikes against Australian exporters.
China “could not be angrier. But they have got themselves into a bit of a problem … There is not much they can do to Australia any more.”Perth USAsia trade expert Jeffrey Wilson
“It’s a matter for the Commonwealth government,” she said. “Our people in our trade offices work day and night … to make sure Victorian businesses have every opportunity to succeed in global trade. That will continue.”
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government made “no excuses for strongly protecting the national interest”.
“It is the federal government that decides the foreign policy settings of our country and determines what’s in our national interests in terms of bilateral partnerships with other countries,” she said.
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said cancelling the agreement was the right move, but the Morrison government now needed to manage the fallout with Beijing and deliver on diversifying Australia’s trade and economy.
“The Victorian government has accepted this veto decision and that’s a good thing,” she said. “The Morrison government should now engage constructively with states to manage the impacts of these new laws.”
Perth USAsia Centre trade expert Jeffrey Wilson said China “could not be angrier”.
“But they have got themselves into a bit of a problem with all the trade sanctions. There is not much they can do to Australia anymore,” he said. “Once you’ve thrown the kitchen sink at someone, in a tactical sense the Australian government is liberated to do whatever the hell it wants.”
But Mr Wilson said the long-term economic prospects from an extended fallout were ominous and education remained vulnerable once borders re-open.
“You do need an exit visa to get out of China to go and study overseas,” he said. “So they could basically deny them. It’s certainly not on the table today, but there is a different environment in the future where there would be new options for them.“_
Up to 60 per cent of Australia’s international $5 billion-a-year student intake is from China.
Australia’s move to scrap BRI deal – for Chinese netizens, it’s Canberra who is ‘out of line’
Australia revoked two accords signed by Victoria state to join the Belt and Road Initiative because they were out of line with Canberra’s foreign policy
But for China, which adopted practices like respecting contracts, the move is seen as proof it will not get a fair deal, even if it plays by Western rules
Published: 5:00am, 23 Apr, 2021
One expression that has come up repeatedly among Chinese netizens in the aftermath of Australia ripping up the state of Victoria’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreement with China is that the decision “violated the spirit of a contract”.
Comments found on Chinese microblogging website Weibo ranged from the milder “what about the contract spirit often touted by the West” to harsher ones like “such perfidy” and “treachery can only be expected from descendants of convicted criminals”.
On Wednesday, Australia announced it would revoke two accords signed by Victoria to join the vast Chinese-led network of investments, saying they were out of line with Canberra’s foreign policy, which sees a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” as a key goal.
Beijing described the decision as “unreasonable and provocative”, adding it would further damage ties that have continued to deteriorate, with both governments at loggerheads over trade and competition for influence in the Asia-Pacific.
Dutton further added that the government’s problem was not with the Chinese people but rather “the values or virtues or the outlook of the Chinese Communist Party”.
But this is not how it’s coming across to Chinese officials and citizens, who have been told repeatedly since the 1980s after China embarked on reform and opening up that it had to pick up norms and practices cherished by the West to catch up economically and integrate internationally.
Even though the memorandums of understanding signed under the BRI are not legally binding, mutual obligations exist, including the need to observe trust and respect.
The current situation has once again galvanised Chinese public opinion which has become increasingly convinced that the double standards imposed by the West means that China will not get a fair deal, even if it plays by the rules of the game.