Australia announced Wednesday that it intends to cancel an agreement concluded by the state of Victoria with China in the framework of the Chinese New Silk Road project, considering that it is incompatible with the country’s foreign policy.
Last year, Australia passed new laws that were considered directed against China, allowing it to cancel any agreement between representatives of an Australian state and a third country that it considers a danger to the national interest.
And Secretary of State Marise Payne announced, on Wednesday, that the federal government will override the Victorian government’s decision to participate in the new Silk Road project, through which Beijing intends to consolidate its trade relations around the world, while critics consider it a way for China to extend its influence on the financial and geopolitical levels.
Payne explained that the protocol of agreement and the framework agreement signed in 2018 and 2019 are among four documents that she intends to cancel under her new powers.
“I consider these four agreements to be inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or contrary to our foreign relations,” she said in a statement, according to AFP.
Under the Australian constitution, the federal government is responsible for foreign affairs and defense, while sectors such as health and education are the responsibility of states and territories.
The Australian-Chinese bilateral relationship began to deteriorate in 2018, when Canberra expelled the Chinese telecom giant Huawei from the project to extend the 5G Internet network under the slogan of maintaining national security.
Tensions escalated when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 epidemic that emerged in China in late 2019.
Last year, China took a series of economic measures that included more than a dozen Australian products, especially meat, wine and barley, which prompted the Australian ambassador in Beijing to describe China last March as a “retaliatory” and “unreliable” trading partner, after Australian officials revealed sharp declines in most exports to the country’s most important market.
Ambassador Graham Fletcher told a China-Australian business group that he did not know whether China was aware of the damage its trade practices were causing in Australia and internationally.
He added that China “is completely unreliable as a trading partner, even a vengeful partner.”
With the exception of iron ore, Australian exports to China fell by about 40%, in 2020, compared to 22% to the rest of the world, according to official statements.