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How dozens of deals with China could be scrapped by Scott Morrison

Building projects, science agreements and even sister city ties face being scrapped by Scott Morrison under a proposed new law. 

The prime minister wants the power to tear up agreements between the states and foreign governments, including Victoria’s Belt and Road deal with China.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Thursday said she has identified 135 deals made with 30 countries that would be examined and potentially scrapped if they pose a threat.

Daily Mail Australia has seen a preliminary list of 52 deals that would need to be declared by state and local government and universities under the new laws. 

More than half the deals – a total of 27 – were signed with China.

They include sister-city arrangements as well as co-operation deals in trade and investment, culture, education, science and technology.   

For example, Melbourne’s partnership with Nanjing, Mildura City Council’s ties with the Wuhan Institute of Technology, and an agreement between Sydney and Guangzhou will all come under the microscope.

Agreements between the ANU and the University of South China, between UNSW and Qingdoa City and between the University of Queensland and the Confucius Institute on its Headquarters in China will also be probed. 

On Thursday morning, WA Premier Mark McGowan said the state government’s 2011 deal with China’s National Development and Reform Commission could be a targeted. 

‘It was a sort of predecessor to the Belt and Road initiative, but it’s the only one I can think of that might be something the Commonwealth would take an interest in,’ he told ABC Radio Perth.

He declined to comment on the proposed new laws and said foreign policy was a matter for the federal government. 

On Thursday Scott Morrison denied suggestions the law was aimed at blocking China as the the countries endure political and economic tensions.

Asked if his biggest concern was China, he said: ‘My biggest concern is Australia’s national sovereign interest.’

He added: ‘Australia has always been, under our government, very clear and very consistent about where we stand on important issues regarding our interests and our sovereignty, as have China. And that clarity creates certainty.’   

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has backed the plan and said deals made by universities need oversight.

He told Sydney radio station 2GB: ‘I think people want to make sure, that particularly on university campuses… they’re acting in our national interest and not putting their own financial interests ahead of the country’s interest.’ 

Victoria made a deal with China under the country’s Belt and Road Initiative, a scheme that sees the communist superpower invest in huge infrastructure projects around the world, in October 2018.

Premier Andrews said he made the agreement to increase Chinese participation in Victorian building projects, manufacturing and trade in order to boost jobs.

Several federal politicians, fearing the expansion of Chinese power and influence, have urged the Victorian government to scrap the deal but it has refused. 

Under the proposed law, the foreign minister will be able to terminate the deal and any private contracts that are part of it. 

Once the law is in place, governments and universities will have six months to reveal their foreign deals to the foreign minister, who will then decide which ones must be stopped.

The law will cover dozens of deals with China and other nations including India and Israel in areas such as culture, education, health, science, tourism, infrastructure and even sister-city arrangements. 

It will also require states get approval from the federal government to start negotiating a foreign deal and seek approval again when the negotiations are done.

Under current laws, states can make a deal and not even tell the foreign minister for three months.

Daniel Andrews caused outrage by only telling the Morrison government about his Belt and Road agreement on the day it was signed. 

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton described the Belt and Road Initiative as ‘a propaganda initiative from China’ that could lead to an ‘enormous amount of foreign interference’.

He said: ‘Victoria needs to explain why it is the only state in the country that has entered into this agreement.’

Federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie told Daily Mail Australia that Mr Andrews had ‘gone off the reservation by conducting his own foreign policy with China’. 

In May Victoria Treasurer Tim Pallas told a parliamentary inquiry the state government would ‘absolutely not’ scrap the deal.

He then accused the federal government of ‘vilifying’ China by pushing for an inquiry into coronavirus. 

The Australia’s Foreign Relations (State and Territory Arrangements) Bill 2020 will be put before federal parliament next week in the hope it will be signed off this year.

Scott Morrison said: ‘Australia’s foreign policies and relationships must always be set to serve Australia’s interests. 

‘Australians rightly expect the federal government they elect to set foreign policy. 

‘These changes and new laws will ensure that every arrangement done by any Australian government at any level now lines up with how we are working to protect and promote Australia’s national interest.

He added: ‘Many agreements and partnerships are of a routine nature but it is important that the federal government is notified of all agreements.

‘Where any of these agreements undermine how the federal government is protecting and promoting our national interests they can be cancelled.’    

It comes amid increasing political and economic tensions between Australia and China. 

Beijing and Canberra have been at loggerheads after Australia led global calls for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19.

Soon afterwards, China slapped an 80 per cent tariff on Australian barley, suspended beef imports and told students and tourists not to travel Down Under in an apparent attempt to damage the Australian economy.

On Tuesday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg blocked a $600million bid by Chinese company Mengniu Dairy to buy Aussie drinks company Lion, citing national security concerns.

On Wednesday Wang Xining, deputy head of mission at the Chinese embassy in Canberra, said Chinese people felt deeply betrayed by Mr Morrison’s call for independent scientists to enter China and investigate coronavirus.

‘All of a sudden, there was this shocking proposal from Australia, supposed to be a good friend of China,’ he said.

‘It is approximately identical to Julius Caesar on his final day when he saw Brutus approaching him and said et tu, Brute?’ 

Minister Wang admitted the virus was ‘first identified’ in China but said ‘we should leave the work to scientists’ to find out where patient zero came from.    

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