Since I began writing on China's influence in Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific for On Line Opinion I have stressed that China is not slowing its expansionary strategies centred on the Belt and Road strategy.
Just about every week I have come across a new initiative that ties PNG and the South Pacific to more PRC debt, often for projects of dubious economic or social benefit.
The latest is the revelation that the Exim Bank of China lent PNG K95 million for a so-called fisheries industrial zone in Madang. So far K300 million has been spent on the project – yet there is ZERO to show for it. The site is overgrown with bush, and the only evidence of the project is a fence in a state of disrepair.
Not only does the PNG Government need to explain what has happened to the K300 million.
Some of it has gone on the repayment of the Exim Bank loan. It would seem that despite zero work on the project, Exim Bank has been paid back K50 million of its loan. In the meantime Australia has generously deferred repayment on at least one loan advanced to PNG in the last two years.
I have written regularly on the need for Australia to be "big and bold" if we are to even slow down China's growing influence in Papua New Guinea, The Solomons, Tonga, Vanuatu, Samoa, Fiji and Kiribati. The so-called "Pacific Step Up" though well intentioned has made no difference. It seems to have only prompted China to step up its own debt trap activity across the region.
There may just be a glimmer of hope that is about to change. The G& Leaders Meeting in the UK endorsed the United States President's "Build Back Better World (B3W) Partnership. The attached White House fact sheet outlined the Biden Administration's strategy. (attach)
The challenge for the Australian Prime Minister is to use his engagement with the G7 Leaders, and the leaders of other democracies such as South Korea and India, to put real substance and action onto the Biden Plan – and for it to happen with urgency.
The danger is that a basically sound strategy will be delayed and diminished by domestic politics in the US and other countries that will have to contribute to it to deliver it.
The absolute urgency that must be attached to the implementation of the plan is overwhelmingly evident given China's unrelenting, and undiminished, activity in our region. To its activity in PNG and the Pacific needs to be added a very aggressive move into Timor Leste, and increasingly Indonesia.
Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States will have to share the burden of countering Belt and Road in our immediate region. The total public funding required will run into the billions – much of it in grant form. The private sector and financing agencies will need to contribute as well.
In this contribution I want to outline just two major nation-building projects in Papua New Guinea that Australia cannot fund on its own, but could contribute to with its democracy partners.
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