Wednesday, February 14, 2018
China eyes new Sydney airport as part of ‘belt and road’ plan/ families to rebury their loved ones
China is eyeing Sydney’s new airport as a potential project that could be linked to its trillion dollar “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure plan, according to a government-linked think tank.
The interest in Sydney infrastructure follows Canberra’s decision to keep its $5 billion Northern Australia development plan separate from OBOR, despite a push from Beijing earlier this year to officially link the two initiatives.
“China is not just interested in infrastructure projects in Northern Australia being linked with Belt and Road,” said Han Feng, from the National Institute of International Strategy at the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
“Sydney’s infrastructure plan requires a large amount of capital and they need to seek international cooperation on these projects. Subways, airports and roads; these infrastructure projects are China’s strength.”
Reviving the old Silk Road. A map showing China’s One Belt, One Road strategy.
Earlier this month, the Turnbull government announced it would invest $5.3 billion over 10 years to build an airport at Badgerys Creek in western Sydney. The Sydney Airport Group opted not to take up its option to build the new airport, leaving it to the government to take over the project. Work is due to start next year and it is expected to be operating by 2026.
“Australia’s projects meet well with China’s strengths,” said Mr Han. “It would be ideal if there was co-operation between the two governments. It all depends on Australia’s mindset.”
So far, Australia has taken a conservative approach to its engagement with China’s OBOR plan. Unlike New Zealand, it opted not to sign a memorandum of understanding with China, which would have formalised its involvement. Trade Minister Steve Ciobo travelled to Beijing for China’s OBOR summit in mid-May but Australia is more a cautious observer than an active participant at this stage.
“Australian companies have been quite active but Australian politicians have a lot of concerns,” said Mr Han.
“Not having an MOU between China and Australia will slow down China’s investment in Australia.”
Beijing is looking to upgrade infrastructure along the old Sild Road through Central Asia to Europe as well as creating new maritime trading routes. It’s not just Australia that is concerned about the geostrategic motives behind China’s grand infrastructure plan. Other countries are taking a more sceptical view of OBOR, as China looks to bolster its influence and position in the region.
China is eager to secure Australia’s involvement amid some push back from state-owned companies, which are being asked to invest in countries with unstable political and economic outlooks. Involving countries like Australia and New Zealand would allow Beijing to lower the overall risk profile of OBOR.
“Australia always claims it is part of Asia, but it wants to keep its distance from China,” said Liu Qing, from the China Institute of International Studies, a think tank that sits under the Foreign Ministry.
“The government wants to cooperate with China but they have too many concerns.”
“If the new Sydney airport is open to foreign investment, Chinese companies would be happy to get involved,” said Mr Liu.
“The new airport in Beijing, which is opening in 2019, will be the biggest in the world.”
David Olsson, a consultant to law firm King & Wood Mallesons who sits on the advisory board of the Australia-China Belt and Road Initiative, said the new Sydney airport was: “a major infrastructure development and many countries are looking to see how they can take part”.
“China has built hundreds of world class airports,” he said. “Why wouldn’t we talk to them about their expertise? If it means labelling it a Belt and Road project that gets the imprimatur of China’s support, giving it access to expertise and capital at potentially good rates, then so be it. It would make no business sense if we don’t consider this option.”
Mr Olsson said the northern Australia development plan had become “too politicised”.
“We need to develop a robust process for identifying our priority infrastructure projects and signal clearly which ones are open to foreign investment or participation,” he said.
A New South Wales family has begun reburying seven loved ones as graves at Badgerys Creek in Sydney's west are dug up to make way for the construction of a new airport.
The Shadlow family got a call from a Federal Infrastructure Department staffer notifying them that graves of their relatives would have to make way for the continuous development.
"I never like to know about graves being disturbed, there's a lot of family emotion and with these particular graves there's a lot of history involved so I was concerned when I was first notified of it," Elizabeth Shadlow said.
The Shadlows held a service at a nearby cemetery for the reburial of their relatives.
PHOTO: Some of the old graves which are being cleared to make way for Badgerys Creek airport. (Supplied: Peter Allen)
"We've buried four people, my sister, both grandfathers, my maternal grandmother, and previously last week we buried my great grandfather," John Shadlow said.
Mr Shadlow led the service for about 20 family members, outlining the history of his family who were among the first settlers of Badgerys Creek.
He grew up in a small house in the area and has seen it change dramatically.
"It's very sad in some ways because Badgerys Creek was a picturesque little place, when I grew up there was a single teacher, everyone knew everyone else," he said.
"Now there's nothing left, all the houses are demolished, people are being evicted from the remaining houses, it's a wasteland."
PHOTO: John Shadlow's family has been reburied to make way for the Badgerys Creek airport. (ABC News: Avani Dias)
The $5 billion airport was finally signed off by the Federal Government last year, after decades of opposition and concern.
The Federal Infrastructure Department said since March last year it had been trying to contact the known next of kin of every person buried in Badgerys Creek.
"There has been ongoing consultation with relatives, the NSW Government and relevant churches to ensure the relocation occurs in a sensitive and respectful manner," a spokesman said.
"The department has undertaken every effort to contact the known next of kin, including a public notice period that began in March 2016."
Graves where no known next of kin came forward have been relocated to the Badgerys Creek Memorial Cemetery, and each grave has been provided with a headstone and a plaque, with a private service to be held, the spokesman said.
Mr Shadlow has come to terms with the process.
He said it had been respectful and the Federal Government paid for new headstones and the service.
"You can't leave a graveyard in the middle of a runway because the church would be literally underneath the runway ... so it had to be moved."
Construction of the 1,800 hectare airport is due to start next year and is scheduled to take eight years with the airport slated to open in 2026.