A young Chinese businesswoman has emerged as a key figure behind Victoria’s controversial Belt and Road trade deal.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been criticised for joining the initiative – the only Australian state leader to do so – which will provide loans and investment in infrastructure projects from the Chinese government.
Jean Dong, 33, is the chief executive of the Australia-China Belt and Road Initiative company, and had a big part to play in securing the deal.
She boasted about her political influence in a YouTube video called “Journey of Influence”, which documented her life from her days as a student journalist in Beijing, to working with Australian politicians including former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and former Labor NSW premier Bob Carr.
The former journalist moved to Australia to study at the University of Adelaide, before moving to Melbourne to study international law. She then took on a consulting position at firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“At the age of 21 I presented and convinced the PwC Australian leadership to consider Asia growth as a priority strategy and to achieve a clear advantage over its competitors,” she said in the YouTube video.
“At the age of 26 I successfully facilitated a mutual and long-term economic collaboration agreement through China-Australia free-trade agreement for both countries.”
According to The Australian, the video was filmed while she was working as the managing director of Spark Corporation Group, which focuses on Chinese investment in Australian agriculture and resources.
She described Victoria’s trade deal as an “expansion of Australian businesses into Chinese markets through strategic partnerships”.
It’s understand Mr Andrews first connected with Ms Dong through his former adviser, Mike Yang.
Mr Yang and Ms Dong both attended a youth delegation to China in 2014.
Mr Yang is believed to be the reason for Mr Andrews’ strong relationship with China’s government.
Years after the conference, Ms Dong was tasked with promoting the Belt and Road Initiative to Mr Andrews, during which time her pro-Chinese company was also paid to provide advice on the deal.
Mr Andrews has defended the state’s relationship with China, saying jobs are at stake if tensions continue to rise.
“I’m not quite sure what people are suggesting, rather we have a good relationship with China or we have a bad one, or we send less product to China, rather than more,” he told reporters.
“If that’s the approach people want to take well, that will cost jobs. It’s very simple.”
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton accused the Victorian Premier of using his relationship with China to advance his own political agenda, telling 2GB it’s “not in our national interest”.
“I think as much as anything, people are worried about the lack of transparency,” Mr Dutton said today.
“The fact that he won’t provide all of the details and release that publicly to be scrutinised says a lot about the intention of both parties.
“I just don’t think it’s in our national interest.”