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China rejects Australia's Criticism of its aid to the Pacific Featured

Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, July 2015 Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, July 2015

14 January, 2018. China has protested an Australian minister’s criticisms that Chinese aid programs in poor Pacific island countries were creating “white elephants” that threatened economic stability without delivering benefits.

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, minister for international development and the Pacific, told The Australian newspaper in an interview published on Wednesday that China was lending to Pacific nations on unfavorable terms to construct “useless buildings” and “roads to nowhere.”

“You've got the Pacific full of these useless buildings which no body maintains, which are basically white elephants,” she told the newspaper.

Fierravanti-Wells later said sustaining debt was a significant threat to economic stability of countries in the Pacific.

“We work cooperatively with China and we encourage China to utilize its development assistance in a productive and effective manner,” she told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“We just don’t want to build something for the heck of building it. We just don’t want to build a road that doesn’t go anywhere,” she added.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang later said Fierravanti-Wells' published comments “show scant regard for the facts and are nothing but irresponsible,” adding that China had made an official complaint to the Australian government.

“For a long time, on the basis of fully respecting the will of the Pacific island countries’ governments and people and taking into full account their development needs, China has offered a great deal of assistance to them,” Lu told reporters.

Chinese aid had “significantly fueled the economic and social development of these countries and delivered tangible benefits to the local people,” assistance that has been warmly welcomed by those countries, Lu said.

“We hope that certain people in Australia should engage in self-refection instead of pointing fingers at and making irresponsible remarks about other countries,” Lu added.

The diplomatic row follows a Chinese protest last month at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's announcement that Australia will ban foreign interference in its politics — either through espionage or financial donations. The move was motivated largely by Russia's alleged involvement in last year's U.S. election and China's growing influence on the global political landscape.

The Chinese foreign ministry said then that Turnbull's remarks were prejudiced against China and had poisoned the atmosphere of China-Australia relations.

Australia’s opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said on Wednesday that Fierravanti-Wells’ comments demonstrated the Australian government’s clumsy approach to foreign policy.

China is Australia’s largest trading partner, and the close bilateral relationship has affected Australia’s relations with the United States, its closest defense ally.

China transferred at least $1.8 billion in aid and loans to South Pacific countries in a decade through 2016, the Sydney-based Lowy Institute international policy think tank found.

Jonathan Pryke, director of the Lowy Institute’s Pacific islands program, said Fierravanti-Wells’ concerns about the terms of the Chinese loans were “quite legitimate.”

“One of the big problems about Chinese aid in the Pacific is that a lot of it comes in the form of loans and a lot of those loans, we don’t actually know what the conditions are,” Pryke said.

Pacific countries including Tonga, Vanuatu and Samoa were “already experiencing significant debt stress as a result of taking out these major loans,” he said.

“It does raise significant questions about: will China forgive these loans, what are the actual terms?” he added.

Fierravanti-Wells called on international development agencies including the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to increase their presence in the Pacific.

“The expansion of the World Bank and ADB’s loan book to the Pacific is very important because it will afford the opportunities for the banks to have visibility of the existing loan books of the countries and to assess the viability and the sustainability of repaying those loans,” she said.




  • Aisea Matiu
    Aisea Matiu Sunday, 14 January 2018 16:52 Comment Link

    At least China's aid (including the Asian countries such as Japan) targets primarily the immaterial dimensions of Pacific societies, notably education, art and culture and language, now slowly expanding to the material infrastructures of society, such as buildings, roads, foreshores and wharves. In doing so, the combined emphasis on both the immaterial and the material readily provides a total rather than a partial approach to such things as (capitalist) economic development and (democratic) political governance, where the conception of things takes the lead over the action upon things, which fairly yet responsibly giving people both the capacity and capability of having a true sense of freedom of how they think and of what they do.

    This is in reverse to the perception of, and preoccupation with, giving aid to the peoples of the Pacific for the sole purpose of material development, where immaterial development is largely ignored for a variety of reasons, including the political one (which is both perilous and dangerous), This was most obvious in the results of the last parliamentary election in Tonga, where the material rather than the immaterial benefits, i.e., the individual rather than the collective good of the whole of society, overly dictated the sad political course and outcomes (the political enforcement of technical, vocational education over critical, classical education as a condition of aid-giving is partly responsible for this rather unfortunate state of affairs).

  • Aisea Matiu
    Aisea Matiu Sunday, 14 January 2018 15:19 Comment Link

    Good on China for responding to the "irresponsible," unthinking and nonsensical Trump-like remarks made by Australia's minister of international development and the Pacific. Aren't all types of foreign aid a form of exchange, involving aid-giving and aid-receiving? The two-way exchanges between aid givers and aid receivers can be either balance or imbalance, depending on their fairness, flexibility, equitability and profitability. Many Pacific nation states generally find China's aid a lot fairer, flexible, equitable and profitable.

    By the way, the use of foreign aid in the Pacific at first as a capitalist tool of economic development and now a democratic instrument of political governance has adversely but surely resulted in the increasing loss of freedom and perpetual dependency across the whole of society, and this is most evident in the spheres of education, politics, economics, psychology, technology, culture and language and many others.


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