Australian defense boss rejects questions over port

Bloomberg

Wed, Dec 16, 2015 - Page 6

The Australian Department of Defence dismissed concerns that the sale of a port in the northern city of Darwin to a Chinese company could undermine national security after the US questioned the deal.

Australian Secretary of Defence Dennis Richardson rejected concerns the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could use the purchase by the privately held Landbridge Group to secure access to port facilities as “alarmist nonsense.”

“The notion that Landbridge is leasing Darwin somehow or other as part of a broader strategic play by China and this gives the PLA Navy access to Darwin is simply absurd,” Richardson told members of parliament in Canberra, adding that there was no chance of China spying on US-Australian communications, because naval vessels go silent in any commercial port.

Australia is reviewing rules for selling state-owned infrastructure to foreigners after US President Barack Obama’s administration raised concerns about the deal in Darwin, where US Marines are based.

The issue highlights Australia’s delicate balancing act in maintaining close relations with the US — its main military ally — and China — its biggest trading partner.

Landbridge, which operates a 30 million tonne per year port in North Haizhou Bay in China’s Shandong Province, is paying A$506 million (US$366.7 million) for the 99-year lease to operate the port, with the Northern Territory government planning to use the proceeds to invest in new infrastructure.

Under current law, the sale did not need approval from the Australian Foreign Investment Review Board, Richardson told the lawmakers.