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Victoria did not consult the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade before signing a controversial infrastructure deal with the Chinese government last year, leaving senior officials concerned it could undermine Australia's push to counter Beijing's growing influence in the region.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald can reveal Australia's chief foreign policy makers were blindsided by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews' announcement that he had signed the "framework agreement" tying the state to China's Belt and Road Initiative on October 23.
Premier Daniel Andrews signed the agreement with China in October last year without showing DFAT.CREDIT:EAMON GALLAGHER
Senior sources within the Australian government have also confirmed DFAT had warned the Victorian government that it was Australia's policy not to sign on to the BRI in the months leading up to the agreement being inked.
While Victoria briefly consulted DFAT on an earlier memorandum of understanding with Beijing in 2018, and made some changes based on its advice, the Andrews government decided not to show the draft version of the more substantial framework agreement to the Commonwealth a year later before signing it.
A DFAT spokesman said the federal government was not consulted ahead of Victoria's 2019 deal with China. "Victoria advised the department of the framework agreement on the day it was signed and announced," the spokesman said.
The agreement formally tied Victoria to the BRI, Chinese President Xi Jinping's signature foreign policy agenda to bankroll infrastructure around the world, which often directly benefits Chinese firms. China has been criticised by some governments including the United States for engaging in "debt-trap diplomacy" under the scheme, whereby developing countries are loaded with unsustainable debts with the intention of extracting economic or political concessions.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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