The Board of Belt & Road Foundation funded by Australian & Victorian Government was stacked with Advisers with High Profile links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The Advisers List includes Members of China’s Treasury, spearheaded lobbying of the Victorian Government before it became the Only Australian State to Sign up to the Multinational Infrastructure Initiative.

Premier Daniel Andrews signed on to the package in 2018 and in May declared it “was more important than ever” to stimulate Victoria’s Post-Coronavirus Economy.

The move, which will allow for Chinese Investment in Victoria and for Victorian Companies to participate in Chinese Government Projects Overseas, has angered Federal Cabinet Ministers who hold National Security concerns over the deal as China becomes increasingly assertive in its pandemic diplomacy.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Thursday accused Mr Andrews of a lack of transparency and of using his relationship with China to advance his own political agenda.

“I would have thought sunlight is a good thing here, but for whatever reason he decides to conduct all of this business in secret, and I just don’t think it is in the national interest,” he said.

The Board Members listed on a now-removed website include Corporate Governance expert Li Wei An, who receives a Special Government allowance from the Chinese State Council, Liu Jian Xing, Director at China’s National Development & Reform Commission and Shuaihua Wallace Cheng, Economist at the Shanghai Municipal Government Development Research Centre. It is common for academics and high-profile business people in China to be associated with the government.

The organisation received $36,850 to provide advice to the Victorian government in 2017-18 and 2019-20 and $20,000 from the federal government in 2016.

The 33 year old founder of the Victorian based Australia-China Belt & Road Initiative, Jean Dong, declined a request for an interview. Ms Dong and her Fellow Director Peter Collins, a genetic variation specialist and science film festival organiser, also recruited Australian Corporate heavyweights including BHP Director Malcolm Broomhead, Former Trade Minister Andrew Robb and Paul Cooper, the Chairman of Norman Disney and Young to the Board.

Ms Dong, then aged in her 20s, said she played key roles in establishing relations between Tasmania and China and witnessed the signing of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement after leaving her role as a State Media News Anchor in China.

In March, Ms Dong praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for combating the coronavirus and for his economic leadership.

“China’s experience and Chinese model have been widely recognised internationally,” she told Chinese State Media Outlet Guangming Daily. China has been criticised by Australia for initially resisting an independent inquiry into the coronavirus.

Ms Dong urged leaders to pay attention to President Xi’s Plan for Post-coronavirus recovery.

“Now is the time for global coexistence of life and death, which model is feasible and which country is solving the problem, everyone can see at a glance,” she was reported as saying.

Ms Dong was commended by Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Frances Adamson at a keynote address at an Asialink Business leadership dinner in 2017. The comments came before Australia’s decision to ban Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei and introduce foreign interference laws.

“We acknowledge the efforts the business community is making, particularly the delegations that Jean Dong has organised with Former Trade Minister Andrew Robb under the auspices of the group called Australia-China Belt & Road Initiative,” Ms Adamson said in 2017.

The Department of Foreign Affairs’ became increasingly concerned about China’s growing influence in the Pacific after 2017, including the potential for countries in the region to be saddled with too much debt in paying for uneconomic projects.

DFAT told Victoria in the months leading up to the state signing the framework agreement it was Australia’s policy not to sign on to the BRI, according to senior government sources.

Mr Dutton called on the Victorian Premier to release all correspondence with the Chinese government dealing with the BRI agreement.

“I really am concerned about what Daniel Andrews is doing,” he told 2GB’s Ray Hadley on Thursday. Mr Dutton raised particular concern about the BRI program loading up countries in the region with debt, including a port in Sri Lanka which the government was forced to hand over to a Chinese firm for 99 years after it failed to be profitable.

“We have got to ask why this is happening and why is this influence taking place in our country and elsewhere,” Mr Dutton said.

Author: Eryk Bagshaw, China Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald & The Age. Due to travel restrictions, he is currently based in Parliament House in Canberra. And Anthony Galloway, Foreign Affairs & National Security Correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald & The Age.
Editor’s Note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of the editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.