Daniel Andrews to pitch ‘true partnership’ in upcoming trade visit to China

Daniel Andrews to pitch ‘true partnership’ in upcoming trade visit to China

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will travel to China this week for a trade mission, his first since the state’s Belt and Road agreements were torn up.

The premier confirmed he would travel to China, which is both the state and the nation’s biggest trading partner, on Monday night.

It will make him the first Australian politician to visit China since the AUKUS submarine deal was inked amid rising security tensions.

Mr Andrews said there would be a “very busy program of meetings” during the trip, which would take him to Beijing, Jiangsu Province and Chengdu from Tuesday to Saturday morning.

“It’s a quick visit, but a really important opportunity for us to impress upon all of our partners in China … that Melbourne is open, Victoria’s open, that the Chinese economy and Chinese community, business, our partners, are very, very important to us,” he said.

The visit would be the first major public development in the relationship between Victoria and China since deals inked as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) were torn up by the Commonwealth.

The federal government scrapped four deals between Victoria and foreign nations in 2021 under Commonwealth powers which had just been introduced.

The deals included two with China —a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in 2018 and a framework agreement signed in 2019. The move also scrapped an MOU with Iran signed by the Kennett government and a scientific cooperation deal signed by the Bracks government.

The premier has visited China a number of times.(Twitter: Lisa Tucker)

The MOU and framework agreement were controversial because they were signed as part of the BRI — a massive network of Chinese-funded infrastructure projects. The second instalment of the deal was also done without the involvement of the federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

Mr Andrews told reporters at the Sunday morning press conference the BRI matter was “in the past”. He signalled he was unlikely to sign any major agreements on the mission.

Mr Andrews said he would not be taking media on the trip to a country which is consistently criticised for a lack of press freedom. Very few western journalists are currently based in China after a number — including the ABC’s China correspondent — were forced out in recent years.

The premier downplayed questions about transparency, saying it would not be a “very picture-friendly trip”. 

Andrews touts ‘true partnership’

The trip could signal a further thawing of the trade relationship between Australia China at a time when strategic and defence tensions are growing.

When Foreign Minister Penny Wong visited in late December, it was the first federal ministerial visit in more than three years.

Senator Wong then met with her Chinese counterpart at the G20 meeting in India earlier this month, telling reporters the countries could “continue to grow our bilateral relationship while safeguarding our national interests” but only “if we both navigate our differences wisely”.

Less than a fortnight later, Australia inked a deal to get nuclear-powered submarines under the AUKUS partnership with the United States and United Kingdom.

Chinese leaders and diplomats have accused the plan of fuelling an arms race, hurting peace and stability and undermining nuclear non-proliferation.

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