Cooperation chorus needed in South Pacific
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Papua New Guinea (PNG) on Thursday, embarking on a series of visits and forumattending with PNG the first leg of his trip. PNG is the largest country in the South Pacific with a population of over 8 million. After years of cooperation, as of October, China’s FDI stock in PNG reached $3.04 billion and about 40 Chinese companies are operating in the country. From January to August, two-way trade between China and PNG reached $2.25 billion, up 34.6 percent year-on-year.
Apart from attending the APEC summit in PNG, Xi will meet leaders of eight Pacific island nations with which China has established diplomatic ties, a major event in China’s relations with the South Pacific.
The South Pacific is now often mentioned together with China. While the PNG public has been friendly with China, powers like Australia and the US tend to view China-South Pacific cooperation from a geopolitical perspective, making the region a venue where China, Australia and the US learn to adapt to each other’s strategy and mentality.
Australia, which sees the South Pacific as part of its sphere of influence, has vast leverage over these nations and is their largest aid donor. But in these mostly underdeveloped countries, Australian aid is not efficiently employed since most aid resources flow to healthcare and governmental administration and seldom reach the infrastructure and production sectors.
The Taiwan question is among the reasons that lead to low-efficient development of South Pacific countries. Taiwan keeps “diplomatic ties” with six countries in the region. Its small favors to these countries are not adequate to help promote local economies and social progress. And these countries face pressure when they announce intentions to build diplomatic ties with Beijing.
Beijing prioritizes local development and win-win cooperation in developing ties with South Pacific countries. Chinese loans mainly go to infrastructure construction and manufacturing that are urgently needed, without political strings attached. These equal-footing contributions have fostered highly efficient economic cooperation projects.
In comparison, some Australians are used to the poverty of South Pacific countries and their dependence on Australia. The Australian public has been speculating about China’s strategic intention behind cooperating with South Pacific countries, which is fueled by sensational reports from the US and other Western nations about China’s ambitions. But these imaginary reports are not reflective of reality, but rather of narrow-mindedness.
China tries hard to understand and take care of the concerns underlying Australia’s incapability to adapt to the new trend in regional development. After all, China seeks to make friends and have common development in the South Pacific and is unwilling to accept misunderstanding. China and Australia need to step up their communication over the South Pacific and can conduct cooperation projects there, such as signing a development MOU.
It’s not a bad thing if the South Pacific becomes a place where China, Australia and the US seek ways to reduce their strategic doubts about one another. Most importantly, China reaches out to the South Pacific with kindness in pursuit of common interests. Facts speaker louder than speculation.