Australia declines to cancel Chinese lease of port after security review

Canberra says ‘robust regulatory system’ in place to manage risks to Port Darwin and other infrastructure.

Chinese-owned Landbridge was awarded a 99-year lease of Port Darwin in 2015 [File: Tom Westbrook/Reuters]

Australia’s government has determined that it is not necessary to cancel a Chinese company’s lease of a major port following a national security review.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s office said on Friday that the review found there was a “robust regulatory system” in place to manage risks to Port Darwin and other critical infrastructure and that “existing monitoring mechanisms are sufficient and will be ongoing”.

“Australians can have confidence that their safety will not be compromised, while ensuring that Australia remains a competitive destination for foreign investment,” the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet said in a statement.

Chinese-owned Landbridge was awarded a 99-year lease of the port in 2015 in a deal worth 506 million Australian dollars ($390m).

The deal came under scrutiny in recent years amid growing concern over China’s increasing influence in the region and a shift in Australia’s defence posture towards long-range deterrence.

Albanese’s centre-left government launched its review of the lease after coming to power last year after an earlier review under the previous conservative government found no cause to cancel the agreement.

Friday’s announcement comes amid signs of a diplomatic thaw between Canberra and Beijing, which had been at loggerheads over issues including alleged interference in Australian democracy and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beijing has eased a range of punitive trade measures on Australian imports and earlier this month released Australian journalist Cheng Lei after three years in detention.

Albanese is expected to visit China before the end of the year, which would be the first trip by an Australian leader to the country since 2016.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies