Sydney | The Chinese New Silk Road project is “used for propaganda purposes”, said Thursday the Australian Minister of Defense who defends the decision of Canberra to revoke an agreement concluded with Beijing in this context.
On Wednesday, Australia announced that it was terminating an agreement signed by the state of Victoria to join this vast investment project, inaugurated in 2013 at the initiative of Chinese President Xi Jinping, believing it to be incompatible with its foreign policy.
As bilateral relations continue to deteriorate, Defense Minister Peter Dutton said Canberra “worries” that local governments are making such deals with Beijing.
“We cannot allow this type of agreement … because they are used for propaganda purposes,” he told a radio station.
Mr. Dutton clarified that the government’s problem is not with the Chinese people but rather with “the values or the vision of the Chinese Communist Party”.
In the midst of tensions with China, Canberra last year passed new laws to quash any agreement between representatives of an Australian state and third countries that were seen as threatening the national interest.
The agreement on the New Silk Road project is the first to be revoked, its detractors seeing it as a way for Beijing to increase its political and economic influence.
In a statement released Thursday, the Chinese Embassy in Australia called the move “unreasonable and provocative.”
This “shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving relations” between the two countries.
Mr. Dutton replied that he would be “very disappointed” if China were to retaliate, but that in any case Australia “will not be intimidated by anyone”.
“We are going to stand up for what we believe in and that is exactly what we have done here,” he added.
Beijing has taken a series of economic retaliatory measures in recent months against a dozen Australian products, including barley, beef and wine, which is interpreted as a way of punishing Canberra for its catches. position vis-à-vis its main trading partner.
Bilateral relations began to deteriorate in 2018, when Australia excluded Chinese telecoms giant Huawei from building its 5G network, in the name of national security.
They were further strained when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called last year for an international investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 epidemic.