Australia’s defense minister has told local newspapers that the government will consider the national interest in its review.
Defense Secretary Peter Dutton has confirmed that his department is reviewing the ownership of a Chinese company in a strategically important port used as a U.S. naval base.
In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald late Sunday night, Dutton said Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s cabinet’s National Security Committee had asked the Department of Defense for advice on ownership. Asked whether the government was forcibly canceling the partition, the minister said it would be in the national interest.
The move would further escalate tensions between Australia and its largest trading partner China, which has raised concerns since Morrison’s government called on Beijing a year ago to allow independent investigators in Wuhan to investigate the origin of the coronavirus.
In 2015, the Northern Territory government’s contract to sell a long-term lease to the Chinese firm Landbridge Group in the port of Darwin has been criticized by security experts. Four years later, President Barack Obama concluded an agreement in Darwin to base about 2,500 marines on the outskirts of the Indo-Pacific.
China last month condemned Australia’s decision to use new legislation to cancel the Belt and Road Agreement with the Victorian state government. There is growing speculation that Morrison could use legislation passed in December to cancel long-term leases of Chinese companies at Darwin and Newcastle ports.
“Regarding the port of Darwin, if I get any advice from the Department of Defense or intelligence agencies that suggests there is a national security risk, you would expect the government to take action,” Morrison said in a radio interview on Friday.