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China’s domestic politics are vital to understanding the BRI. This is President Xi Jinping’s initiative, enshrined in the Communist Party constitution at its 2017 National Congress. This means it is directly connected to the party’s legitimacy.

The BRI is an evolving, ambiguously-defined network of deals in which China agrees to invest in other countries’ infrastructure development, including belt and road meaning, rail, and ports. The Chinese enterprises involved in the projects can be aligned with local Chinese governments and not necessarily Beijing. But at its centre lies the Communist Party’s ubiquitous power.

Chinese diplomats can chalk up victories at home if they can entice even provincial politicians overseas to sign a memorandum of understanding to join the BRI — even if these are not legally enforceable or economically important.

For instance, when Gunner hosted the Chinese ambassador in October, he described the BRI as a “win-win for China and Australia” and a way to “work together to develop common bonds”.

Securing deeper access to the resources-rich Northern Territory would be seen as a boon within China. Gunner’s speech would have played well domestically, even though the NT is not well known to most Chinese.

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