Sinosteel’s bid was reviewed by the Foreign Investment Review Board but its purchase, for an undisclosed sum, raised the eyebrows of security experts who questioned project’s size and leverage it may give China’s communist regime.
Speaking at the opening of a new hub for Australian companies in Shanghai on Wednesday, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham threw his support behind Sinosteel’s involvement.
“Sinosteel has been a long-term investment partner in Australia and over a very long period of time has opened up our resources industry and created job opportunities for Australians,” he said.
The 2015 sale of Port Darwin to Chinese-owned Landbridge Group drew harsh criticism over critical infrastructure falling into the hands of a foreign power, but Mr Birmingham said the Oakajee situation was different.
“I would note there is a significant difference between the sale of existing and critical infrastructure facilities [and] investing in new or significant upgrades to create new capability for the export of resources from Western Australia,” he said.
He said Australia continued to welcome investment from China or anywhere else in the world in critical infrastructure, subject to rigorous assessment against national interest.
Australian Strategic Policy Institute executive director Peter Jennings questioned how wise it was to allow Australia to deepen an already-deep dependency on China for economic and investment connections.
“My own sense is that we’re way past the point where this should be something that’s viewed primarily as just a commercial deal, but that we’ve got to think about the national security consequences,” he said.
Following the purchase, Sinosteel said it was reviewing Oakajee and the Jack Hill mine.