Daniel Andrews Announces Surprise Visit to China

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will be the first state leader to visit China, ahead of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Andrews will leave on March 27 and visit Beijing, as well as the provinces of Jiangsu and Sichuan, before returning to Melbourne on April 1. He will meet with Chinese education officials and Australia’s ambassador to China.

This is the seventh trip to China undertaken by the Labor premier and no media contingent has been invited.

The premier garnered international attention for signing two Belt and Road Initiative agreements with Beijing and being slow to condemn the Chinese Communist Party for the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020.

The then-Morrison government would eventually step in to terminate the agreements—after passing specific laws to deal with the issue—citing concerns around Australia’s national interest.

‘Incredibly Important’: Premier Andrews

Premier Andrews told reporters on March 26 that China was Victoria’s largest trade partner.

“China is incredibly important. Our two-way trade in 2022, with all those COVID shocks, was still in excess of $40 billion. This is our largest and most significant trading partner,” he said.

“We’ve got about 42,000 Chinese students enrolled in Victorian higher education settings—those students are a really significant part of our Victorian economy. Close to $14 billion worth of economic activity can be traced back to our international education sector.”

“This is not the first trip that I’ve made to China, and it won’t be the last.”

In response to questions about the cancellation of the BRI, Andrews said “that matter [is] in the past, this trip is about the future.”

“I’m sure that infrastructure, both infrastructure needs in China and some of our challenges and needs here, may well be talked about,” he said. “This is the infrastructure capital of our nation so no doubt they’ll be interested.”

The BRI has been blamed for roping in developing countries into “debt-trap diplomacy” arrangements that see Beijing gain control over vital infrastructure once partner governments default on loans (often offered by the CCP).

The BRI is also viewed as a trojan horse for Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s plan for global hegemony.

Where’s the Transparency? Opposition Says

But Deputy opposition leader David Southwick said the premier’s China trip lacked transparency.

“There are a number of questions that certainly need to be asked, firstly, to understand what is the benefit of this trip to Victoria and to Victorians.

“What will Daniel Andrews be doing when he’s over there, and why has he been so secretive about this particular trip?” Southwick told reporters.

Meanwhile, Michael Shoebridge, director of Strategic Analysis Australia, said it was good news to see the premier at least coordinating with Prime Minister Albanese before his trip.

“But there is still a high risk that Beijing sees Andrews as a useful and uncritical pro-China voice in Australia’s domestic debate that they can use to drive wedges in country’s national approach to China,” he told The Epoch Times.

“How Premier Andrews and the federal government manage this risk will be shown by Andrews’ openness about his visit, and by Canberra not simply boasting the idea of a return of large numbers of Chinese tourists and students.”

Victorian Senator Ralph Babet said Andrews had “no business” going to China.

“Especially now as China postures for war and we enter the AUKUS agreement. Leave international relations to the federal government. Not even the prime minister has been to China,” he wrote on Twitter.

The Scramble Back to China Begins

The Victorian premier’s official visit beats out West Australian Labor Premier Mark McGowan, who has been open about his willingness to visit China after border closures were lifted.

China is the largest export market for the state’s mining industry.

In March, McGowan announced plans to visit China in April to discuss direct flights from Perth to Guangzhou.

“It obviously needs approval from the Chinese authorities, but that’s the plan [direct flights],” he told reporters.

“That’s the plan—reinstating direct flights and making sure that the relationship, particularly in relation to our major export industries, remains strong.”

McGowan said he had been briefed by the federal Defence Minister Richard Marles and senior officials.

Following Andrews’s announcement, the federal government also revealed that Assistant Trade Minister Tim Ayres would be visiting China for the Bo’ao Forum for Asia dialogue while leading a business delegation including mining billionaire Andrew Forrest and Treasury Wine Estates CEO Tim Ford.

Ayres’s visit follows that of Foreign Minister Penny Wong to Beijing in December and a virtual meeting with Trade Minister Don Farrell last month.

Since the federal Labor government won office in May 2022, the focus of Canberra and Beijing has been on “normalising” bilateral relations.

The previous Liberal-National Coalition governments were responsible for a range of initiatives aimed at pushing back against the Chinese Communist Party, including rolling out foreign interference laws, cancelling Huawei’s participation in its 5G network, calling for a global investigation into COVID-19’s origins, and implementing AUKUS.

The current federal Labor government is now trying to walk the tightrope between protecting Australia’s national interest and building trade relations with Beijing.

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