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Darwin Port: Beijing anger at prospect of lease being stripped from Landbridge

A video shows a Chinese company’s intentions for a vital Aussie port. Now it’s at the heart of a new tussle between Beijing and Canberra.

A seemingly innocuous port in the Northern Territory is fast becoming the next flashpoint in the deteriorating relationship between Canberra and Beijing.

There are fears that a deal inked in 2015 to grant a Chinese firm a 99-year lease on the Port of Darwin could have disguised a plan by Beijing to keep a close eye on Australia and its ally, the US.

It’s led to growing calls for Chinese firm Landbridge, which paid $506m to the Territory Government for the lease, to be stripped of control of the port. In a glossy video, Landbridge has lauded its Aussie asset as a “pivot” to China.

But Australian defense watchers have said Darwin is now a “strategic location” in the Asia Pacific, and it’s an anomaly having Beijing control northern Australia’s pre-eminent port.

China has retorted that the port has “no military purpose” and has denied it has anything other than strictly commercial intentions for its investment.

On Monday, the Defence Department said it sought security advice on Landbridge’s custodianship of the port.

“If there is advice from the Defence Department or our security agencies that change their view about the national security implications of any piece of critical infrastructure, we have legislation now which is dealing with critical infrastructure,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

That new legislation gives Canberra the power to cancel agreements between foreign powers and individual states and territories. It used the new law to rip up Victoria’s agreement with Beijing on the Belt and Road initiative – a move that enraged China. Now Landbridge’s Darwin Port deal is looking like it could suffer the same fate.

Controversial decision to hand Darwin to a Chinese company

Darwin Port had been a drain on the coffers of the Territory Government, so when Landbridge came along in 2015 with half a billion dollars in cash, it seemed like a win-win.

The port would be upgraded, a luxury hotel built, and all at no cost to the taxpayer to eventually get the infrastructure back. Six short years ago, relations between China and Australia were on a more even keel – but even then, the NT’s decision was controversial.

Yet worries were dismissed as mere “fearmongering,” and Chinese firms could be persuasive – at the time – in saying they had few links to the Communist-led Government.

Gemma Broadhurst
Gemma Broadhurst is a 23-year-old computing student who enjoys extreme ironing, hockey and duck herding. She is kind and entertaining, but can also be very standoffish and a bit evil.She is an Australian Christian. She is currently at college. studying computing. She is allergic to milk. She has a severe phobia of chickens

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