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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 was seeking 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 deal with Beijing on the Belt and Road initiative – a move that enraged China.

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