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China Spat Doesn’t Halt Investment, Australian Merger Chief Says

·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Australia isn’t closed to Chinese investment, the head of Australia’s foreign investment approval regime said, even as “warfare and international contestation” have become a new focus for the body.

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The fall in Chinese investment into Australia is more a result of a retreat in total offshore investment by China, and not specific to Australian relations, David Irvine, the chair of the Foreign Investment Review Board, told the Citi Australia and New Zealand Investment Conference on Thursday.

“I’d like to debunk that notion completely,” Irvine said. “We run a non-discriminatory investment policy in terms of assets you can buy and areas in which you can invest on the one hand, and the provenance, the country from which the investment comes.”

The government continues to welcome investment applications from Chinese interests and they will get the same consideration as other investors, particularly in the area of national security interests, he said.

The claim comes after a series of tariff tit-for-tats between Australia and its largest trading partner that has effectively spilled over into takeovers. Australia’s government instituted a new screening regime around foreign investment in sensitive assets last year. Irvine, the former chief of Australia’s Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, was appointed to lead Treasury’s merger and investment approval arm in 2017.

Read more: Dairy, Meat Seen as Targets If China Rebukes Australia Over Subs

China has fallen rapidly from Australia’s top source of foreign investment in the last three or four years, Irvine acknowledged, but said this was a global trend and not a result of bilateral tensions. Last year, more than 20% of major foreign investments, totaling more than 250 separate applications, that the government approved on FIRB’s recommendation contained some element of Chinese participation, he said.

“The tools used in warfare and international contestation have changed enormously and now encompass investment in critical infrastructure,” Irvine said. However, the same screening applies to any bidders, including those connected to close allies.

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