Chinese investment in Australia plunges

Liz Hobday and Andi YuAAP
Ironfish has seen real estate purchases from mainland China dip dramatically in recent years.
Camera IconIronfish has seen real estate purchases from mainland China dip dramatically in recent years.

Chinese investment in Australia plunged by more than 60 per cent in 2020, according to ANU data.

The university's database recorded just more than $1 billion of investment in 2020, down from $2.6 billion the previous year.

Almost all - 86 per cent - of that investment came from Chinese firms established within Australia, and did not come directly from foreign firms.

Property investment firm Ironfish, which has offices across Australia and China, has seen real estate purchases from mainland China dip dramatically in recent years.

Managing director of Ironfish Glen Waverley in Melbourne's southeast, Michael Du, told AAP his company had turned its attention more to the local market since investment from China had slowed.

He said property investment through his office from Chinese mainlanders had approximately halved since 2017 and any change to this would depend on long-term federal government policy.

"Before, it was very easy to get a loan (for foreign investors) and now it's very hard," Mr Du said.

"Big banks cannot lend the money to Chinese investors."

The director of the East Asian bureau of economic research at the ANU, Shiro Armstrong, says foreign investment has been subjected to more scrutiny in recent years.

"It reflects the effects of COVID but also more scrutiny of foreign investment by the Australian government," Dr Armstrong said.

The drop takes Chinese investment to the lowest point in the past six years and follows a 47 per cent drop in 2019.

Relations between the two countries have been strained over a growing list of problems, including China's treatment of the Uighur minority and of democracy activists in Hong Kong.

China's military build-up in the South China Sea is also an issue, along with Australian lobbying to restrict global infrastructure contracts by the Chinese firm Huawei.

Chinese money in Australia reached a peak of $16.5 billion in 2016.

Since the ANU began tracking Chinese investment in 2014, Chinese businesses have spent money in almost every sector of the Australian economy.

But by 2020 Chinese money was restricted to real estate ($461 million) mining ($414 million) and manufacturing ($153 million).

The United Nations reports that total foreign investment in Australia fell by 46 per cent last year.

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