China’s role more negative in Pacific, says think-tank

National, Normal

The National- Friday, January 21, 2011

 CHINA is no longer a force for good in the Pacific, including links with criminal activities in Papua New Guinea, according to an Australian think-tank.

The director of the Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney Jenny Hayward-Jones said that the negatives attached to Chinese involvement outweighed the positives.

Speaking on Radio Australia on Wednesday, she added that her conclusion was based on her observations of Chinese activity during last year, especially in Papua New Guinea and Fiji.

The Lowy Institute is an independent international policy think-tank whose objective is to generate new ideas and dialogue on international developments and Australia’s role in the world.

“I previously thought that Chinese investment trade and aid was generally a good thing for the Pacific, but Chinese behaviour I believe has altered over the last year,” Hayward-Jones said, making reference to the behaviour of the Chinese-owned and operated Ramu nickel mine in Madang where resentment had been growing over outstanding landowner demands.

“I believe this is a sign of a lack of Chinese control over its protection power in the Pacific, which is beginning to worry me.”

On rising crime, she told presenter Jemima Garrett she was not sure if there was a link with the Chinese government, “but certainly there’s a perception that a lot of the crime in Papua New Guinea is organised by Chinese gangs or triads or Chinese illegal immigration”. 

“While I don’t believe this is coordinated actively from Beijing there, the failure or the lack of capacity of the government in Beijing to see the consequences of this and the damage to China’s image, results in a widespread perception that this is Chinese crime, and a Chinese wave of crime that’s affecting Papua New Guinea and some other parts of the Pacific which have suffered from trafficking from Chinese sources.

“So I think certainly it’s incumbent on the government in Beijing to do more about its image.”

On the economic front, she agreed that China had been increasing the amount of loan money it sends to the Pacific.

“China’s preference for soft loans over grants in the Pacific, I think, has the potential to cause serious economic hardship for a number of Pacific Island countries,” she said, adding that Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands in particular had high debt to GDP ratios as a result of the loans.

“The capacity of those countries to service those loans has to be questioned, given that they’re not generating sufficient economic growth”.