Other Australian States are growing their exports to China at rates equivalent to or greater than Victoria despite not having signed up to the Communist Nation’s $1.5 trillion Belt & Road Global Infrastructure Program.
Figures from the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade have cast doubt on the economic benefits of Victoria’s controversial Belt & Road Agreement on the same day that Melbourne’s Uighur Community urged Premier Daniel Andrews to walk away from the deal.
Mr. Andrews continued to defend the controversial agreement with China on Wednesday as it again dominated the day’s politics at State Parliament, saying comparisons with other states should be approached with caution.
The federal Coalition government and Victorian opposition both want the agreement scrapped, saying it is not in the national interest for a single Australian State to sign up to Belt & Road against the wishes of the National Government.
The State Labour government has repeatedly justified its BRI deal and its broader approach to trade engagement with China by pointing to a 62% increase in Victoria’s trade with the Country since the ALP came to power.
But DFAT’s Australia’s Trade by State and Territory 2018-19 publication shows growth in merchandise exports, excluding services, from NSW to the Asian superpower grew by 9.6 per cent compared to Victoria’s 9.7 per cent.
Tasmania recorded 16 per cent growth in merchandise exports to China in the five years to 2019, while the Northern Territory managed nearly 12% and Queensland more than 22 per cent, all without signing onto China’s BRI.
Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the figures supported his party’s position that the BRI deal was bad for Victoria and should be scrapped.
“Other states’ exports to China are increasing more than Victoria, without being locked into the unfair Belt & Road deal,” Mr O’Brien said.
“Daniel Andrews’ Belt & Road deal with the Chinese government looks like one-way traffic and Victoria is heading the wrong way.”
Former Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett was also scathing of the deal, saying the decision to sign the memorandum of understanding sent a signal of weakness.
“This is an expansionist, strategic policy by a foreign country who is looking around for those who are weakened states to accept their finance in return for infrastructure,” he told Nine News.
“Our Premier, who has done many good things has entered into a contract with another country which is not supported by his own political colleagues in Canberra, let alone the government, nor any other State Premier, Labour or Liberal.
“He has sold our soul … for no purpose. We’ve already had good arrangements with China.”
Asked about the other states’ China trade figures on Wednesday, Mr Andrews said comparisons were not reliable.
“We’ve always had to work harder and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.”
Meanwhile, Victoria’s Uighur community said it was “dismayed” by Mr Andrews’ BRI deal with China. Community Spokesman Alim Osman said the agreement was a “propaganda coup” for China with “little or no advantage to Victoria for signing up”.
China is accused of massive human rights abuses against the Uighurs who live in the western provinces of the vast nation, including mass surveillance and incarceration, forced labour and other abuses.
Mr. Osman said Uighurs living in Victoria were routinely harassed and intimidated by the Chinese government.
“Yet the Premier of Victoria insists that the Chinese state is not just a good customer but a good friend and the relationship with Victoria is one of mutual trust and respect,” Mr Osman said.
“Uighurs cannot accept this narrative.”