La­bor MPs clock up 25-plus vis­its to China

The Australian - - THE NATION - RE­BECCA UR­BAN

Vic­to­rian La­bor MPs have gone to China at least 25 times over the past four years, rack­ing up close to $1 mil­lion in travel bills as part of Pre­mier Daniel An­drews’s pur­suit of closer ties with the com­mu­nist na­tion.

Since La­bor’s 2014 elec­tion vic­tory, Mr An­drews has made no se­cret of his de­sire to court China as a trade, ed­u­ca­tion and cul­tural part­ner, and has per­son­ally led four del­e­ga­tions there at a cost of al­most $300,000 to tax­pay­ers.

“As Pre­mier, I am com­mit­ting to vis­it­ing China ev­ery year and will also en­sure that my min­is­ters are fre­quent visi­tors,” he said af­ter em­bark­ing on his first 10-day visit in 2015. Since then, Vic­to­rian Trea­surer Tim Pal­las, Cre­ative In­dus­tries Min­is­ter Martin Fo­ley, Trade Min­is­ter Philip Dal­i­dakis and Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Jaala Pul­ford have each trav­elled to China twice, while a fur­ther 11 cabi­net min­is­ters have also un­der­taken of­fi­cial vis­its to China, tak­ing in Bei­jing, Shang­hai, Nan­jing, Shen­zen and Hong Kong.

Vic­to­rian La­bor’s close re­la­tion­ship with China is in the spot­light in the wake of the state govern­ment’s de­ci­sion to en­ter into a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with Bei­jing for its am­bi­tious but con­tentious Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, putting it at odds with the fed­eral govern­ment, which has not signed up.

The sig­na­ture project of Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, the BRI rep­re­sents more than $1.8 tril­lion of in­vest- ment to cre­ate mod­ern tran­sit and trade cor­ri­dors be­tween China, Africa and Europe along the his­toric Silk Road.

So far, 68 coun­tries in­clud­ing New Zealand have signed up, keen to get a slice of the in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able, de­spite con­cerns that the project is a bla­tant push by China for greater in­flu­ence in global af­fairs.

An­nounc­ing the MoU late last month, Mr An­drews said that the land­mark agree­ment recog­nised the close re­la­tion­ship be­tween the state and China, the re­sult of ded­i­cated en­gage­ment at all lev­els of govern­ment.

That en­gage­ment is de­tailed in dozens of travel re­ports filed over the past four years that de­tail min­is­ters’ meet­ings with se­nior Chi­nese govern­ment of­fi­cials, in­dus­try chiefs, busi­ness ex­ecu- tives, in­vestors and prospec­tive in­vestors, trade del­e­ga­tions, of­fi­cial din­ners, tours of schools, hospi­tals and re­search labs, and a visit to a panda breed­ing fa­cil­ity.

Mr An­drews’s re­port into his Septem­ber 2015 China trip, when he was joined by MP Mar­sha Thom­son and mul­ti­cul­tural ad­viser Marty Mei, who has been linked to China’s in­flu­en­tial United Front or­gan­i­sa­tion, re­veals he sought out se­nior govern­ment and in­dus­try fig­ures to con­sult on the govern­ment’s pro­posed China strat­egy.

Re­leased six months later, the strat­egy’s over­rid­ing goal was for Vic­to­ria to be­come “China’s gate­way to Aus­tralia based on the strength of our con­nec­tions and the depth of our un­der­stand­ing of each other’s peo­ple, cul­ture and eco­nomic needs”.

In May last year, Mr An­drews was back in China as “the only sub­na­tional leader from Aus­tralia to at­tend the Belt and Road Fo­rum for In­ter­na­tional Co-op­er­a­tion in Bei­jing”.

The high-pro­file event, hosted by Mr Xi, was at­tended by more than 1500 del­e­gates from 130 coun­tries, in­clud­ing heads of the UN, the World Bank and the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund.

While there, Mr An­drews spoke at a ses­sion on in­fra­struc­ture con­nec­tiv­ity, show­cas­ing Vic­to­ria’s strengths in en­gag­ing with China, pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships and in­fra­struc­ture de­sign and de­liv­ery.

Mr An­drews de­nied yes­ter­day that his govern­ment faced un­due in­flu­ence from China.

“No, that’s com­plete non­sense,” he said.

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