Australia downplays ‘risk’ in selling port to China firm

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Canberra, March 9 (IANS) Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull downplayed the results of an SMS poll which indicated that almost 90 percent of the population see risk in the Darwin port being sold to a Chinese firm.

The poll, conducted by the US State Department, revealed that 43 percent of the respondents felt that there was “a lot of risk” in selling the Port of Darwin to Chinese firm Landbridge Group, while 46 percent of respondents said there was “some risk”.

Eleven percent of the respondents saw “no risk” to Australia, Xinhua news agency reported.

But Turnbull said on Wednesday that the government would not be taking the “text message opinion poll” seriously, and both his government and the US had “appropriately” assessed any outcome of selling the Port of Darwin to the Chinese firm.

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Turnbull said he had discussed the sale with US President Barack Obama when they met in the Philippines in 2015.

“The security issues relating to that port sale were thoroughly investigated in Australia’s national interest by the relevant security agencies. That’s how we determine security issues; not by text message opinion polls,” Turnbull said.

“The US government is satisfied that the security issues relating to the lease of the port were examined carefully, professionally and appropriately by the Defence Department,” he added.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the survey, conducted by the US, meant nothing as Australia’s foreign policy and defence policy are “decided by Australia”.

“It’s not decided by the US, China or anyone else,” Shorten said.

The Port of Darwin was given to the Landbridge Group on a 99 year lease in a deal worth $376 million.

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