Australian bureaucrats are divided over China’s ambitious push to dominate global trade, with a number of key Government departments against the plan, despite 68 countries already signing up.
Beijing’s trillion-dollar ‘One Belt, One Road’ plan, initially proposed in 2013, and further progressed earlier this year, is the marquee project of President Xi Jinping.
It is based around a number of new free trade deals, a network of new trade routes across the globe, high speed rail links between China and Europe, and major port developments in Africa and Asia, which proclaims to improve China’s ability to take advantage of the global market – with mutually beneficial results for cooperating nations.
New Zealand is among the 68 countries to already sign up for the program.
But according to an ABC report this week, a number of senior figures in Australia’s national security community are opposed to the idea, and are joined by Immigration Department secretary Mike Puzzullo, and former Defence Department head Dennis Richardson, who retired in May.
Officials are said to be encouraging the Turnbull Cabinet to reject the plan.
The deal has reportedly driven a wedge between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s diplomats – who are said to be against it – and its trade officials, who are reportedly in favour.
One senior official was quoted by the ABC, saying, “the economic case for Australia formally joining simply wasn’t made … We saw very little in additional economic benefit for signing up, but a lot of negative strategic consequences if we accepted Beijing’s offer.”
President Xi pushed for more development on the Belt Road Initiative at China’s 19th Party Congress last week, saying “an opening-up economy will improve while a closed one will lag behind”.