Aust Needs Self-re­flec­tion As Pa­cific Is­lands Stand Up

Fiji Sun - - Pacific News - By XU HAIJING

Aus­tralia has been given a good chance to do some se­ri­ous self-re­flec­tion with some South Pa­cific Is­lands lead­ers stand­ing up to it on the is­sue of Chi­nese as­sis­tance to the re­gion.

Aus­tralian Min­is­ter for In­ter­na­tional Devel­op­ment and the Pa­cific Con­cetta Fier­ra­vanti-Wells ear­lier last week ac­cused China of pro­vid­ing loans to Pa­cific na­tions on un­fa­vor­able terms and con­struct­ing “use­less build­ings” and “roads to nowhere” in the re­gion. The com­ments an­gered South Pa­cific Is­lands whose lead­ers strongly re­buked the crit­i­cism. On Fri­day, Samoa’s Prime Min­is­ter Tuilaepa Sailele Maliel­e­gaoi said Fier­ra­vanti-Wells’ crit­i­cism is “in­sult­ing” to Pa­cific Is­lands lead­ers, and can “de­stroy” Aus­tralia’s re­la­tion­ship with the re­gion.

“To me the com­ments seem to ques­tion the in­tegrity, wis­dom and in­tel­li­gence of the lead­ers of the Pa­cific Is­lands,” Tuilaepa told the Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, de­mand­ing a for­mal apol­ogy from the min­is­ter. Van­u­atu’s only daily news­pa­per, The Daily Post, also lashed out at Aus­tralia.

“Aus­tralia’s ma­jor roads pro­ject in Van­u­atu, proudly un­veiled in 2013 by then For­eign Min­is­ter Bob Carr, is a laugh­ing stock,” the news­pa­per said on Fri­day. “The gov­ern­ment of Aus­tralia might want to put down those stones it’s throw­ing at China and learn a thing or two from its own mis­takes first. “And talk­ing over our heads about our short­com­ings isn’t go­ing to win them many friends here, ei­ther,” the news­pa­per said.

“If Aus­tralia is se­ri­ous about help­ing, it should do more, do it better and gripe less,” it added. For some ir­re­spon­si­ble Aus­tralian politi­cians, those words are a sharp re­minder that they should stop be­hav­ing like an ar­ro­gant over­lord and learn to treat their South Pa­cific neigh­bours as equals.

Aus­tralia has al­ways re­garded the South Pa­cific as its back­yard and has been in­vest­ing heav­ily across the re­gion.

But as a re­sult of the huge deficits in its re­cent bud­gets, Aus­tralian for­eign aid was among the first to get slashed.

Whether a build­ing is use­ful and whether a road should be built and where, are for the re­cip­i­ent coun­tries to de­cide ac­cord­ing to their long-term in­ter­ests.

Those Aus­tralian politi­cians should also stop their knee-jerk re­ac­tion to China and not let prej­u­dice blind them­selves to what China has done to help sus­tain­able devel­op­ment and im­prove liveli­hoods in the re­gion.

As a mat­ter of fact, Tuilaepa came to the de­fence of Chi­nese as­sis­tance, say­ing it has proved cru­cial in his coun­try’s ef­forts to deal with the im­pact of cli­mate change.

He also said China was better placed to pro­vide this as­sis­tance to Samoa than Aus­tralia. He de­nied there was a strate­gic el­e­ment in China’s sup­port, say­ing Bei­jing had not asked Samoa for ac­cess to ports or air­ports. Even Fier­ra­vanti-Wells’ coun­try­man John Mc­Carthy, can­not agree with his “bizarre” com­ments. Mr Mc­Carthy, for­mer Aus­tralian Am­bas­sador to the United States, In­done­sia and Ja­pan, called the min­is­ter’s words “bizarre” in an opin­ion piece pub­lished in The

Aus­tralian on Satur­day.

“And if the Chi­nese are be­hav­ing badly, should we not hear from the is­lan­ders first? They are, after all, ac­cept­ing the aid,” he wrote.

For sure, point­ing fin­gers at China would do nei­ther Aus­tralia nor the Pa­cific coun­tries any good. To im­prove the well­be­ing of these is­lands, Aus­tralia could do much in co-op­er­a­tion with other in­ter­na­tional donors, in­clud­ing China, and it should do so.

Photo: Vil­imoni Va­ganalau

China-aided Stin­son Bridge in Suva after the of­fi­cial open­ing on Jan­uary 11, 2018.

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