Australia has blocked a Chinese military-linked company from taking over a major construction company – and China is not happy. Like any bully who gets a long-deserved punch in the nose, Beijing is lashing out.
China has accused Australia of “weaponising the concept of national security’’ after a $300 million bid by a Chinese state-owned company to buy a construction company was scuppered by Josh Frydenberg.
Frydenberg is absolutely right, of course – and the government in standing up to China’s remorseless greed, is finally providing the sort of leadership that the Australian people have been waiting for too long for.
And giving the global bully a well-earned kick in the pants.
News of the decision sparked an angry reaction from the Chinese embassy which said that “if the reports proved true, this is the latest case that Chinese investment is discriminately targeted”.
“We are deeply concerned about the relevant reports on Probuild,” the spokesperson said.
“Weaponising the concept of national security to block Chinese investment is detrimental to mutual trust as well as bilateral economic and trade relations. We urge the Australian government to provide a fair, open and non-discriminatory environment for all foreign investors including Chinese enterprises as promised.”
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman called the decision political.
Yes, it is. And sensible, not to mention moral: do we really want to keep dealing with the Nazi Germany of the 21st century, taking the money and turning a blind eye to its atrocities?
More importantly, construction is a particularly sensitive area of national security concern.
Probuild built the Victorian police headquarters and is involved in construction of the new Melbourne base for CSL, one of Australia’s most successful global firms, which is producing COVID-19 vaccines locally.
Construction contractors are a particular focus of the Foreign Investment Review Board’s attention as they can pass on sensitive information such as building blueprints and supply chains to foreign intelligence services. FIRB guidelines also note that foreign spy agencies can build surveillance equipment into premises to gather information on “sensitive tenants”.
This is just one of the major deals with China that Australia has rightly rejected in the past year. Last April, a Chinese company was blocked from taking over Lion Dairy and Drinks.
Parliament in December passed a major overhaul of the Foreign Acquisitions and Takeovers Act of 1975 which was aimed at ensuring Australia’s “foreign investment framework keeps pace with emerging risks and global developments”.
Those reforms, which came into effect from January 1, included a new national security test for foreign investors who wish to acquire a direct interest in a “sensitive national security business” — regardless of the value of the investment.
Meanwhile, Michael McCormack is more than living up to expectations as Acting PM.
When asked about the threat of potential retaliation from China, Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the government would “always do what’s in the national interest”.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings said rejecting CSCEC’s takeover bid was the right call. “We are going to see more and more of these types of refusals,” he said.
Mr Jennings said almost any large state-owned company would have links with the Chinese military.
He said there was a feeling that “enough was enough” when it came to overdependence on an increasingly hostile China, which had shown it was prepared to use this economic dependence for political coercion.
Meanwhile, Labor is trying to have a predictable each-way bet.
Labor Treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers said the opposition had not been briefed on the reasons for the Probuild decision.The Australian
Of course, they weren’t: Labor probably wouldn’t pass the national security test themselves. Not when they’re taking literal shopping bags full of cash from shady Chinese operatives.
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