research / Working papers

ACRI working paper: Chinese investment in critical infrastructure: much ado about not much?

April 06 2016

Defence hawks have cited the Northern Territory Government’s decision to lease Port of Darwin to Shandong Landbridge Group in 2015 as reason to call for changes in Australia’s foreign investment approvals regime that would restrict Chinese investment in critical infrastructure assets on security grounds. They have also claimed the support of public opinion. This paper begins by reviewing the security debate around the Darwin Port sale and highlights that the alleged risks raised by critics of the deal have been downplayed by academic experts and leading defence and intelligence figures. The preferences of the Australian public over foreign investment in such assets are then considered. An analysis of new survey data shows that the most important determinant of preferences is the share of foreign ownership that an investment would bring. Country-of-origin was also significant with investment from China being least preferred. However, there was no significant difference in preferences between investment from China and India, and the preference against investment from China could readily be offset by other investment attributes. In short, claims of security risks and strong public opposition to Chinese investment look to have been a case of much ado about not much. Accordingly, calls for changes in the approvals regime that would restrict Chinese investment appear to fall short.

Notes: This paper was prepared for the conference China: Wealth and Power, held at the Australian National University, Canberra, April 7-8 2016. 

Authors: James Laurenceson, Deputy Director, Australia-China Relations Institute, University of Technology Sydney; Paul F. Burke, ARC DECRA Research Fellow and Associate Professor in the Discipline of Marketing and Deputy Director, Centre for the Study of Choice, UTS:Business; Hannah Bretherton, Research Assistant, Australia-China Relations Institute, University of Technology Sydney; Edward Wei, Centre for the Study of Choice, UTS:Business.

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