Australia reviewing lease of Darwin port to Chinese company over national security concerns

Published (HKT): 2021.05.04 06:35

Australian defense officials are reviewing an agreement that would lease the Port of Darwin to a private Chinese company for 99 years, as tensions continue to grow between Canberra and Beijing.

Defense Minister Peter Dutton said that work was “already under way” to look into the agreement so as to advise the Cabinet, according to a Sunday report by the Sydney Morning Herald.

Dutton said the government would wait for the Defense Department to provide its advice and “look at options that are in our national interests.”

The Chinese company Landbridge acquired control of the Darwin port for A$506 million (US$390 million) from the Northern Territory government in 2015. The deal also granted the company 80% ownership of the land and facilities of East Arm wharf.

The Darwin port lease sparked controversy after Landbridge was reported to have close ties to the Chinese military. The United States had also expressed concern about the deal.

Australia has since passed laws on foreign investment, requiring a government board to approve the sale of critical infrastructure such as ports.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week that his administration would take action over the port’s ownership if he was told by defense or intelligence agencies that there was a national security risk.

Separately, The Sunday Times uncovered a “swift and largely unnoticed buying spree” by Chinese state-owned entities in the United Kingdom with a total price tag of at least £44 billion (US$61 billion).

The portfolio of purchases by Chinese investors — involving businesses, infrastructure, property and other assets — are worth up to £135 billion, almost twice as much as previous estimates, the Times reported.

The newspaper said it found 200 investments, of which more than 80 took place since 2019. Investors from China or Hong Kong owned stakes in critical infrastructure providers such as Thames Water, UK Power Networks and Heathrow airport, as well as high-profile British properties including landmarks in London.

“This demonstrates that successive governments have been asleep on the watch,” said former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith. “This evidence today shows how dangerously we are sailing towards Chinese control of key aspects of our business.”

China posed the single greatest strategic threat to the U.K. and the British government must understand how Beijing set about controlling key areas of foreign economies, Smith added.

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