Australia hints at possible canceling of Darwin Port deal with China

If defense, intelligence agencies recommend it, Premier Morrison vows not to hesitate to move in 'national interest'.

Australia hints at possible canceling of Darwin Port deal with China

Australia's premier said on Friday that he would not hesitate to cancel a 99-year lease with a Chinese company for the northern Port of Darwin if advised to do so by the country's defense and security agencies.

Speaking at a news conference in Darwin, Northern Territory (NT), Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the most important thing for his government was to protect Australia's national interest.

"It's a lease, one. But, secondly, I've always said that if we receive advice from our defense and intelligence agencies that that (canceling the deal) is what is necessary to do to protect Australia's national interest, I would not hesitate to do that," Morrison said in response to a query on whether he would cancel the 2015 lease if re-elected.

Morrison refused to provide details to a journalist asking if the Defense Department had completed its investigation into the deal and to see its findings, saying they were classified.

The Australian House of Representatives recently passed a bill that will now be tabled in the Senate, empowering the government to oversee such leases.

"As I said, the Australian government did not authorize it, did not approve it, did not have the power to approve it. And what we have done after the previous Territory Government entered into that lease, what we've done is to tighten the laws to ensure that the Federal Government would have such authority in the future, and passed critical infrastructure legislation, which means that we can keep a close eye on it and protect the national interest, as we have done," Morrison explained.

In 2015, the Northern Territory government signed a deal of AUS$506 million (approximately $390 million) and leased out the port to Chinese firm Landbridge for 99 years.

However, some media reports said that last year, the Morrison government asked the Defense Ministry to review the deal after Canberra's relations with Beijing turned sour when Australia joined its Western allies seeking a probe into the origins of COVID-19, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

In April 2021, the Australian government also scuttled a deal its Victoria state made with China as part of Beijing's massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), despite Victoria's refusal to cancel its agreement, which was signed in 2018.

China takes flak over silence on Russia-Ukraine tensions

During the news conference, Australia's prime minister again criticized China for its silence over the Russia-Ukraine conflict, saying nations all around the world were condemning the threats of violence, except for Beijing.

"The Chinese government is yet to denounce those threats of violence, and I urge them to do so. They seek to play, they say, a positive role in global peace. Well, they could immediately denounce the threats of violence that are taking place on behalf of Russia," he said.

This was Morrison's third statement against Beijing this week, as relations between the two countries remain tense.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin rebuked Morrison's criticism on Wednesday without naming him directly, saying the international community "can see very clearly who is the real trouble-maker and threat to security in the world."

"Self-serving acts that shift the blame on others will not only hurt one's own country and people but also all people of the world. Such behavior will not be allowed by the force for justice and will eventually be forsaken by the trend of the times," he added.