NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley has fully endorsed China’s global infrastructure fund and mimicked language used by Beijing officials in attacking Australian media for being driven by a “Cold War mentality” towards the communist nation.
Mr Foley and prominent NSW Labor MP Ernest Wong, who has ties to political donor Huang Xiangmo, hosted a media conference at NSW Parliament House last week echoing China’s criticisms of the Australian press.
In June, Mr Wong accompanied Mr Foley to China where the pair met with government and party officials in Beijing, Zhengzhou and Guangzhou.
At the media conference, attended by Chinese-Australian press, Mr Foley suggested some Australian media reports were suggesting the country cut ties with Beijing.
“I’m very concerned a series of reports on the Australian media seem to be suggesting we turn our backs on friendship with China,” Mr Foley said. “I think there is a Cold War mentality on display here when you read some of these articles that you refer to and some of this reportage.”
After a number of reports about Chinese government influence in Australia earlier this year, Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye urged Australians to give up their “Cold War mentality”.
“We need to view each other’s development path and policy intentions more objectively and rationally, with less and less Cold War mentality. We need to build more trust, with less lecturing,” he told business leaders in June.
While federal Labor has said Australia should look at embracing individual projects under China’s Belt Road Initiative infrastructure scheme, Mr Foley said Australia should follow New Zealand’s approach and sign up to the program. “I am concerned that when the international forum on One Belt One Road occurred earlier this year, Australia seemed to have a half-hearted engagement (with the conference),” he said.
“I think we sent the Trade Minister but New Zealand has signed a memorandum of understanding with the PRC around One Belt One Road co-operation, I mean Australia should be doing this.
“Why are we leaving it to our friends in New Zealand to sign up to the One Belt One Road partnership? We’re sending a message we’re not convinced about this.”
Mr Foley said NSW and Australia would be signing an “economic suicide note” if it did not engage with the BRI.
Mr Foley attacked Premier Gladys Berejiklian for neglecting relations with China, the state’s biggest trading partner, and for not visiting the country in the past two years or progressing the Guangdong-NSW Joint Economic Meeting, last held in 2014.
Ms Berejiklian’s first overseas visit as NSW Premier was to Japan and South Korea.
In May, federal Trade Minister Steve Ciobo attended a forum in Beijing hosted by President Xi Jinping to officially launch the initiative. The Australian earlier this year revealed the Turnbull government had resisted a push to align the Chinese fund with the $5bn Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility. While some in the defence community see the BRI as a grab for strategic power, Australia’s Foreign Affairs Department has raised concerns about the transparency of tendering in the program.
However, Australian business leaders have urged Australia to be more forward in embracing the scheme. Miners also hope it will revive demand for commodities.
Mr Wong, who replaced former treasurer Eric Roozendaal in the upper house, was an “honorary adviser” for the Beijing-linked Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China, of which Yuhu Group’s Huang Xiangmo is the president.
By PRIMROSE RIORDAN