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Australia trying to balance its need for Chinese investment


03-24-2017 08:20 BJT

Full coverage: Premier Li Visits Australia, New Zealand

(Source: CGTN)

Signs of Chinese investment in Australia are tough to miss, especially in Queensland where construction of the nearly billion dollar Jewel resort is nearing completion. It’s the kind of foreign investment that is welcomed by the Australian government - and with good reason.

"Foreign investment often follows trade and supports more trade," James Laurenceson, deputy director of Australia China Relations Institute at University of Technology in Sydeny, said.

But when it comes to Chinese investors, the Australian government has sent mixed signals. In 2016, it denied the sale of the country’s largest cattle property - citing national interest concerns. It also knocked back the sale of Ausgrid at the last minute to Chinese investors last year on the same grounds. And the 2015, the leasing of the Port of Darwin to Chinese-owned Landbridge Corporation generated a great deal of controversy - but was eventually approved.

"A country like Australia is simply trying to make decisions that are in its national interests," Laurenceson said.

"96% of foreign investment deals go though the Foreign Investment Review Board so I would say Australia is one of the most open countries to foreign investment," Professor Tim Harcourt, economist with University of New South Wales, said.

But not all Chinese investment is welcomed here in Australia - especially when it comes to housing  - because of a growing public sentiment that Chinese investors are driving Australian families out of the market.

Especially in cities including Sydney, where home prices have increased by 70% in just 4 years.
But a recent study found that Chinese investors in Sydney were responsible for less than 4 percent of all home sales.

"Chinese investors are in the housing market, they are prominent, people can see them, they are a political issue and that is what brings them out," Lecturer Mark Rolfe with University of New South Wales said.

The Australian government seems aware of balancing the need for Chinese foreign investment - worth about $75 billion in 2015 - with concerns about national interests.
It recently created the Critical Infrastructure Centre to specifically identify which assets fall under national interest scrutiny for foreign investors.

"What it will do is tell foreign investors if you are investing in a particular assets, you will or will not have to concern yourself with issues of national security. It just means that the foreign investment doesn’t proceed to the last step and then get blocked," Laurenceson said.

The government hopes the move will help restore certainty for potential foreign investors - and remove some of the doubt about just how welcomed that investment really is.

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