There’s no question the Victorian government has been wilfully naïve in its Belt and Road dealings with China, which have undermined the national interest by weakening the Commonwealth government’s ability to set the terms for key international relationships.
The Andrews government has also selfishly harmed the interests of small countries, such as our Pacific island neighbours, undercutting their negotiating positions with China by driving such a weak bargain itself and essentially signing on to texts drafted in Beijing.
As I argue in my recent book Contest for the Indo-Pacific, each such lazily accepted MOU – without language on governance, environmental standards or even labour rights – serves mainly as a propaganda gift to Xi Jinping.
Such statements are projected back to the Chinese people as sheer homage, a message that the rest of the world accepts Chinese influence on the terms set by the Communist Party.
But Pompeo’s words are precisely the wrong response. Australia is capable of dealing with this issue in its own sovereign way, which includes greater scrutiny on relevant Victorian government decisions from Canberra, the State Opposition and the media.
There is no sign Victoria’s China agreements will harm telecommunications security, since Canberra has so effectively protected this domain nationally with its de facto Huawei ban – a position we took for our own reasons and well before America did.
Secretary Pompeo should be grateful that Australia has been so assiduous in telecommunications and 5G security, and he should walk away from his misinformed line about ‘cutting off’ a secure and vital ally.
This whole episode is a reminder that Australia welcomes unwanted pressure from no foreign power. In theory, Australian officials do not take sides in US elections, but this incident will no doubt deepen their wishes for a Biden victory in November.
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