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A House Divided: The AFRB and China’s Subnational Diplomacy in Australia

Read my latest paper for the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) on the Australia’s Foreign Relations Bill (AFRB) and Victoria’s Belt & Road Agreement (BRI):


Australia’s Foreign Relations Bill (AFRB) is designed to help the Commonwealth keep tabs on international diplomacy involving Australian states, territories, local governments, and public universities — but it will do more to help the Commonwealth avoid political embarrassment than to quash Chinese influence and interference in the Australian political system. The AFRB would give the foreign minister the authority to cancel agreements like Victoria’s deal to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but it would allow Chinese subnational diplomacy to continue in the shadows, away from public scrutiny. As written, the AFRB is poorly targeted and bureaucratically heavy-handed. It will inhibit innocent cooperation with friendly countries while doing little to deter Chinese influence and interference operations.

Key conclusions are:
* The AFRB should be amended to require the publication of subnational deals.
* The AFRB should be amended to establish a ‘trusted partners’ list of countries not requiring review

The AFRB also covers Australia’s 13 public university Confucius Institute agreements. The only country with a greater concentration of Confucius Institutes is New Zealand. The financial incentives behind these agreements are unknown, and the AFRB would allow them to remain secret. A more effective AFRB would require the disclosure of their commercial terms.

Download and read the full paper at:

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Sydney-based globalization expert Salvatore Babones is available to speak on the Chinese economy (demographics, growth, technology), the Belt & Road Initiative, global trade networks, and Australia-China relations. Contact: