The Port of Newcastle has labelled claims that the Chinese Government has dangerous level of influence over its operations as "xenophobic".
Control of the port has remained contentious since 2014 when the State Government approved a 98-year lease of the facility to Hastings Funds Management and China Merchants in a deal worth $1.75 billion.
The defence and strategic policy think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute claimed on Tuesday that China's stake in the port could see exporters punished through increased port fees or other means as part of an ongoing economic trade war with Australia.
The Port of Newcastle, the world's largest coal export port, contributes almost $1 billion to the Hunter annually. A 2020 analysis conducted by HoustonKemp Economists found its direct and flow-on contribution to Australia's gross domestic product was almost $1.5 billion.
A port spokesman said the Institute's comments amounted to "fearmongering" and "xenophobic commentary", which was a "disservice to the people of the Hunter" at a time when the region's economy was at a crossroads.
"Port of Newcastle celebrates that its two equal shareholders have the necessary international experience in building and operating the type of modern and efficient port facilities that Australia needs right now to remain globally competitive," he said.
The port is currently seeking to have state government penalties on container movements lifted so a second NSW container terminal can be built at Newcastle.
It is estimated the proposed Newcastle Multi-purpose Deepwater Terminal would attract $1.8 billion worth of private investment, generate more than 15,000 direct and indirect jobs and contribute $2.5 billion to the national economy.
"Port of Newcastle has ambitious plans to invest in the port and create the very employment certainty and economic prosperity that the Hunter needs, but that some people are intent on opposing," the spokesman said.
"While some with vested interests may be intent on derailing the diversification of the port and the Hunter's economy- at the expense of its residents and their future prosperity - no one is fooled."
Federal Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon said the privatisation of the port reflected the failure of Australian governments and the private sector to prioritise the control of national assets.
"The Port of Newcastle is both profitable and of strategic importance," he said.
"It should never have been privatised in the first place. But here's the rub, if neither governments nor company boards too weak to stand up to climate change activists are not prepared to invest in and operate profitable strategic assets, who is the last investor standing?
"It's time to wake up."
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The Australian Strategic Policy Institute comments follow a recent battle between the port and the NSW Minerals council, which has been lobbying for the introduction of fixed pricing for the port's customers.
The council is appealing a decision by federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg not to direct the National Competition Council to take control of charges at the port.
Mr Frydenberg said in March that he was not satisfied that declaring the port would be in the public's interest or that it would result in increased competition.
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