The escalating tensions with China has exposed just how tight the Asian superpower’s grip is on the Australian economy, both in terms of trade and its ownership of important local assets.
As Beijing becomes increasingly belligerent toward Australia, the latter’s heavy reliance upon Chinese money has been exposed as vulnerability instead of a strength.
China now owns key ports, mines, agricultural land, dairy processors, valuable real estate, state-sponsored schools, plus water and energy companies.
The rosy days of 2015 – when the Northern Territory government decided to lease the Port of Darwin to Chinese-owned company Landbridge for 99 years – now seem long gone, but such deals cannot be undone.
The controversial $500million deal was called into question at the time by then US President Barack Obama.
Northern Territory Labor MP Luke Gosling said the lease is a concern because all Chinese companies – even those privately owned – are ‘still accountable to Beijing’, especially one that owns critical infrastructure abroad.
He wrote in an article for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute that the deal was less about business and more about Chinese strategic interests – and the notorious Belt and Road Initiative.
The global development plan is a key policy of President Xi Jinping and China aims to build and own infrastructure in as many countries throughout the world as possible to increase those nations’ dependence on China.
Smaller countries are often tempted to sell their land, and their sovereignty, in return for big money deals offered by Beijing.
‘You won’t hear the government say this openly for obvious reasons – it oversaw the sale – but the 2015 lease of Darwin Port was part of the Belt and Road Initiative,’ Mr Gosling said.
‘Officially, the Darwin Port sale wasn’t badged as a BRI project. But it was undoubtedly part of it from Beijing’s point of view, even if not from ours.’
Another shocking revelation about the extent of Chinese control of key assets came in June when it was revealed that Sino companies are the largest holders of Australian water, setting inflated prices that local farmers struggle to afford.
A new report on foreign ownership on water entitlement found Chinese investors have surged ahead of the US to own 1.9 per cent of our nation’s water.
Around 10.5 per cent or almost six Sydney Harbours of the nation’s water is now foreign owned, according to the report.
China now owns 756 gigalitres of water after a three per cent boost of its share in 2018-19, putting it ahead of companies owned in the US (713GL) and the UK (394GL).
Increasing control of water assets came at a time that China was also boosting its ownership of agricultural land.
Mawallok Estate in Stockyard Hill, in western Victoria, changed hands for an undisclosed price after being marketed with a huge $25million asking figure.
Title documents also show the largest exporter of Australian wool, Chinese business tycoon Qingnan Wen, bought the heritage-listed sheep station.
Two months later in August, a 5071-hectare farm property located near Ballan, about 60km west of Melbourne, was snapped up for for $60million by China’s Guangxi Investment Co by their subsidiary Harvest Agriculture.
The energy sector is another area where Chinese investors have looked to buy big.
Despite its deceptive name, Energy Australia is owned by China’s Light and Power Co, while Alinta Energy is a subsidiary of Chow Tai Fook Enterprises.