Friday, June 7, 2019
Belt and Road ‘an ideal fit for WA’, says China
China is pushing for Western Australia to join Victoria in signing up to President Xi Jinping’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative, with a senior official urging the McGowan government to seize the “historical opportunity” of a deal aimed at boosting trade and investment links.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews broke ranks with federal Labor and the Morrison government last year when he signed a memorandum of understanding with Beijing on the BRI, viewed in Canberra as a vehicle for Chinese regional and global expansion.
The four-page MOU signed in October stated that Victoria and China would “work together” under the BRI to promote the “connectivity” of policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people, while acknowledging that Victoria was “welcoming and supporting” of the BRI.
In a speech in Perth last month, China’s new consul-general, Dong Zhihua, told Labor MPs and WA business leaders that the resource-rich state should also take advantage of the opportunities of the BRI, China’s global economic co-operation initiative.
Ms Dong, formerly a senior official at China’s foreign ministry in Beijing, said the Chinese government had already signed 173 co-operation agreements on the BRI with 127 countries and 29 organisations.
“Western Australia and China are natural partners for we are in the same time zone and enjoy geographic proximity,” she told the China Business Forum.
“We have a solid foundation and great prospects for future co-operation. We should fully explore the huge opportunities brought by the BRI.
“I hope that the WA state government and business community will seize the historical opportunity presented by the Belt and Road Initiative and again take the lead in deepening co-operation with China that benefits our people.”
A spokesman for Mark McGowan said the Premier had not been approached to sign up to the BRI. Mr McGowan has previously pointed out that former premier Colin Barnett signed an MOU with China in 2011 aimed at strengthening economic ties.
The Premier’s stance on China has attracted scrutiny after his government entered a $200 million contract with controversial Chinese telco Huawei for it to upgrade the communications system on Perth’s rail network.
Mr McGowan also strongly backed Labor’s upper-house whip, Pierre Yang, after The Australian revealed last year that the Chinese-born MP failed to disclose his membership of two organisations with links to the Chinese Communist Party.
WA’s merchandise exports to China were valued at a record $61.5 billion in 2017-18, most of which was commodities led by iron ore. But Ms Dong said a long-term deal for co-operation should expand beyond resources to incorporate sectors such as tourism and education.
“For example, more direct flights between China and WA will bring along more trade and investment opportunities, boost the tourism industry, and promote people-to-people exchanges,” she said.