Protest Calls for China’s Belt and Road Agreement With Victorian Labor Govt to Be Cancelled

By Mimi Nguyen Ly

Groups gathered outside Victoria’s State Library in Melbourne on Nov. 21 to protest the Labor government’s secretive move to join China’s flagship economic investment project, the Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

Protesters held banners and signs calling out what they say is the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) underhanded economic and trade tactics that could potentially compromise Australia’s economic and political independence.

More than a hundred people attended the rally, hailing from various backgrounds, including Australians as well as those from the local Chinese, Vietnamese, and Tibetan communities.

Victoria is currently the only state in Australia to have formally expressed its support for China’s BRI, also known as the One Belt One Road project.

On Oct. 25, Labor Premier Daniel Andrews finalised a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the BRI with China’s Ambassador Cheng Jingye, in hopes that the deal will foster more trade and jobs in Victoria. Andrews’ office reluctantly released the contents of the MoU (PDF) late on Nov. 11 after significant pressure from politicians on all side of politics, including Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Crowd at rally in Melbourne Victoria
More than 100 people gathered in Melbourne in a rally on Nov. 21, 2018, calling to cancel the Victorian Government’s recent Oct. 25 signing of the Belt and Road Initiative. (Hu Yuhua/Epoch Times)

Despite the MoU with China’s communist regime being non-legally binding in nature, Ruan (Frank) Jie, editor-in-chief of the Tiananmen Times in Melbourne and also a host of the protest, said he had grave concerns about the agreement with the CCP. He highlighted the deceitful nature of the CCP.

“The CCP makes secret deals through the Belt and Road trade, manipulating politics, the economy and even the military of a democratic country,” he said at the rally.

Ruan Jie also told The Epoch Times: “In the past 20 years, the CCP [has been] developing the economy and now China is one of the largest economic bodies, next only to the United States. It means the CCP has too much money.

“They want to use this money to make some people, especially the politicians, leaders of the western countries, to shut their mouths on the human rights abuses of the Communist Party in China.

“If a party does not treat its own country’s people well, will it treat foreign countries well?”

Don Nardella, an independent MP and former Labor member, told the Epoch Times that, despite human rights concerns in China, he believes the trade relationship with China must be maintained.

“I certainly have concerns about, as I talk to people, the Uyghurs, organ harvesting, labor camps in China. There are whole ranges of issues,” he said.

“However, China is our biggest trading country. This is the situation where you should build relationships,” he said. Nardella added that in his opinion, a strong trade relationship would mean that Australia can continue to maintain a dialogue with communist China about other issues.

Debt-Trap Concerns

Patrick J Byrne speaks at Melbourne rally
Patrick J. Byrne, vice chairman of the National Civic Council, speaks to a crowd at Victoria State Library on Nov. 21, 2018. More than 100 people gathered in Melbourne in a rally calling to cancel the Victorian Government’s recent Oct. 25 signing of the Belt and Road Initiative. (Hu Yuhua/Epoch Times)

Patrick J. Byrne, vice chairman of the National Civic Council, said in the rally on Nov. 21 that the MoU signing may be part of the CCP’s economic and political interference efforts in Australia.

In his speech to the crowd, Byrne said that other countries like Malaysia and Pakistan have already reconsidered their BRI involvement due to debt concerns.

China’s BRI projects have been criticized for burdening developing countries with massive loans that they can’t pay off. In several countries, including Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, locals are accusing the BRI of being a platform to serve the CCP’s interests through debt-trap diplomacy.

The BRI has also been criticized for potentially reinforcing corruption in countries with weak institutions. threatening democracy, and benefiting Chinese firms rather than serving local interests, The Epoch Times previously reported.

On Nov. 17 at the APEC Summit in an indirect reference to China’s BRI, Vice President Mike Pence said: “We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt. We don’t coerce or compromise your independence. The United States deals openly, fairly. We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road.”

Lack of Transparency

Vivienne Nguyen, chair of the Vietnamese Community Association (VCA) of Victoria who was also at the rally, expressed concerns about the lack of transparency of the MoU agreement that Victoria had signed.

“Looking after the economic prosperity of the Victorians by any government is crucial. But it can be done a lot more transparently,” Nguyen told The Epoch Times.

“You can do that on a project-by-project basis, which is what Victoria and other states of Australia has been doing for a long time.

“But when you sign up to an initiative, there are obligations within that initiative that you have to adhere to and comply with. Within that Belt and Road initiative, there are a lot of things that are not business-related, and that do not support the economic prosperity of the Victorian people,” she said.

“That is why, to me, it is better to say if you want to improve job prospects for Victorians, enter into a project that generates job prospects for Victorians. If you want to engage in cultural exchange, whether be in Victoria or other states, then do that.

“So that way, it’s transparent, which is important in any democratic system. That way, people can look at it and understand it rather than having something that’s so convoluted, that meshes up everything altogether—you can’t really distinguish what is what,” Nguyen said.

“That’s the issue with the BRI. They put into it so many things, that you really can’t say ‘this is you, this is me.’ It’s like you and I are all combined, you can’t really tell,” she added.

‘The Jobs Will Be Taken Away’

Tenzin Lobsang Khangsar, President of the Victoria Tibetan Community, called the MoU a “secret deal” that is part of the CCP’s many efforts to infiltrate Australia.

“This communist regime is one of the most dangerous regimes in this world,” he told the crowd at the rally. “This communist influence in Australia is coming very strong. As you can see, they’re influencing the universities, societies, politicians, everywhere.”

Khangsar said that the CCP today is drawing on the same ways in which it occupied Tibet—it is using the same tactics as a blueprint to seek influence over the rest of the world.

“To understand communist China, you must understand the narrative of Tibet,” Khangsar said.

“In 1949, when Communist China came into power, under the leadership of Mao … When [the CCP] first entered into Tibet, they promised us peace and prosperity in Tibet, and pretended they were helping Tibetans. The innocent Tibetans helped the Communist army to build the roads.

“Once the roads were built and reached the capital city of Tibet, Lhasa, they brought the trucks, guns, tanks, and in 1959, Tibet was occupied.”

“This road initiative is exactly being implemented throughout the world because China was successful in occupying Tibet,” he said.

Khangsar told The Epoch Times there are people who share his concerns that jobs will be taken away from Victorians, although he said that negative consequences of signing the BRI likely “won’t happen straight away.”

“Whether it’s 10 or 20 years, when it happens, the jobs will be taken away … the jobs will be taken away by the Chinese … That’s why we are also worried about the future of this country,” he said.

“We are telling the world leaders and our Premier that what had happened to Tibet might happen to you. We don’t want that to happen to Victoria or around the world,” he added.

Andrews declined The Epoch Times’ request for comment on the MoU.

Reporting by Rita Li and Beatrice Lee of The Epoch Times.

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