China has accused Australia of weaponising trade after the Treasurer blocked a Beijing-backed takeover bid for an Aussie company over national security concerns.
China State Construction Engineering Corporation has withdrawn a $300m bid to take over Australian-based building company Probuild after Josh Frydenberg flagged it would be rejected on security grounds.
The was rejection was the first made by Canberra under tough new foreign investment laws in place since January 1 and reflect deteriorating relations between the two countries since early last year.
Beijing has lashed the decision, accusing Canberra of weaponising national security concerns to unfairly target Chinese companies.
“This is the latest example of how the Australian government has been politicising trade and investment issues, violating market principles and the spirit of the China-Australia free trade agreement and imposing discriminatory measures on Chinese companies,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lijian Zhao said on Tuesday.
“Such actions have disrupted the sound momentum in practical co-operation between China and Australia and hurt the image and reputation of Australia itself.”
The moves comes against a backdrop of escalating trade tensions between Canberra and Beijing in which China has slapped sanctions on a range of Australian industries.
A spokesman for the Treasurer said the government did not comment on individual foreign investment cases.
Labor Treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers said the opposition had not been briefed on the decision, but it was up to Mr Frydenberg to explain his reasoning.
“Foreign investment is welcomed in our economy. It’s necessary in our economy, it’s approved in the vast majority of cases,” he told Sky News.
“But it does need to be consistent with our national interests, including our national security interests. We need to balance all of those considerations, we need a robust screening process.”
The comments come after newly declassified documents revealed Washington took direct lessons from Australia in handling China in the Indo-Pacific.
The document, obtained by the ABC, shows the Trump administration was focused on aligning with Australia and India in the region in 2018.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, in power at the time, said Canberra’s approach to Beijing was “clearly influential” in Washington.
“We had a very clear-eyed, realistic view of the tensions in the region and the need to maintain our alliances, to strengthen them, to maintain the rule of law, to stand up against coercion,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.
“We took a number of measures, banning Chinese vendors and the 5G network, we did that in advance of the United States. We obviously legislated to protect Australia from foreign interference.
“All of these and many other insights were clearly very influential in the official thinking in Washington.”
Mr Turnbull described the document’s release 30 years before schedule as a “bit of legacy building” but said the coherent account of the Trump administration’s foreign policy was undermined by the President himself.
“The reality is that the problem with Trump’s foreign policy was that it was so erratic and inconsistent. (The) clarity of that document was not reflected consistently by Trump,” he said.
“It talks about the importance of maintaining a strong stand with North Korea and to make it very clear to North Korea that unless it denuclearised, it would not be relieved from sanctions.
“That was entirely at odds with … (Mr Trump) having those meetings with Kim Jong-un and getting nothing for it.
“But Trump did not follow through on it in anything that could be described as consistent or principled. Therein lies the problem.”