Deeper in the deep freeze, Australia's veto powers sting China

Australia's veto powers sting China relationship again

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NOT A HAPPY CAMPER: China's Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

NOT A HAPPY CAMPER: China's Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

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The Chinese Embassy rebukes the Australia Government over cancelled deals.

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Barely mended Australia-China relations are straining again with the Chinese embassy in Australia describing the federal government's ripping up of four deals between Victoria and three foreign nations as "unreasonable and provocative".

It also said the federal government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations after it used new foreign veto powers, which came into force late last year, to cancel two deals with China's controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreement.

Two other cancelled agreements were with Iran and Syria.

Australia's foreign minister Marise Payne sprung the move on the signatories late Wednesday, labelling the four arrangements as "inconsistent with Australia's foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations."

And there's likely more to come with Senator Payne stating, during a press conference in News Zealand, that she expects, "there'll be further decisions to be made in due course."

"They will be informed by advice from, from my department on the consistency of all of those arrangements with the relevant legal test as it's set out in the legislation," she told reporters on Thursday.

The Chinese embassy in Australia swiftly responded, expressing "strong displeasure and resolute opposition" to Australia actions.

"This is another unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China," the embassy said in a statement.

"It further shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations. It is bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself."

Australia's relationship with its largest trading partner has certainly seen better times, with Beijing furious by what Chinese state media has labelled as anti-China policies.

Last year, China disrupted trade and economic ties after the Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent international investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. There is also concern over human rights criticism, the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong, media freedom and perceived singling out over foreign interference and investment laws.

The Chinese government also remains furious with Australia over a decision to ban Huawei from the country's 5G rollout.

The Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Victorian deals were against Australia's 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," he told reporters on Thursday.

"Our relationship with China is important. They are the number one trading partner for Australia. We want that relationship to continue to be productive and it will continue to be valued.

"But at the same time, we will be clear and consistent with respect to our national interests. Whether it's around human rights, foreign investment, or other national security-related issues."

The Victorian government regards the Foreign Relations Act as a matter for the Commonwealth.

"The Victorian government will continue to work hard to deliver jobs, trade and economic opportunities for our state," a spokeswoman said in a statement.

The four cancelled deals were among more than 1000 agreements that the federal government had scrutinised.

Senator Payne says the vast majority of the notified arrangements, "reflect the richness and breadth of Australia's international interests and demonstrate the important role played by Australia's states, territories, universities and local governments in advancing Australia's interests abroad."

"I will continue to consider foreign arrangements notified under the scheme. I expect the overwhelming majority of them to remain unaffected," she said.

The Chinese embassy in Australia has not responded to requests for comment.

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