Regional expert warns of China’s increased influence

Director of the Lowy Institute Pacific Islands Programme Jonathan Pryke.

PORT MORESBY, 28 SEPTEMBER 2018 (POST COURIER) – A prominent regional commentator has warned Papua New Guinea to be weary of the challenges and unforeseen issues that will come with increased Chinese activity.

Speaking to Post Courier, Director of the Lowy Institute Pacific Islands Programme Jonathan Pryke said that PNG needed to treat all dealings with China with the greatest scrutiny, warning the island nation of the dangers that come with large scale developments presented as gifts.

He said that the rapid entry of such a large new player into Papua New Guinea, where the geostrategic landscape has been pretty much benign since independence, is going to be disruptive.

“China brings a lot of opportunities for PNG, both diplomatic and economic, but it also brings with it significant challenges.

“Much of Chinese aid has been provided in the form of loans, which will eventually have to be paid back.

“The quality of this infrastructure, and the terms of these loans, deserve a lot of scrutiny,” said Pryke.

He furthered that the way in which Chinese State Owned Enterprises were and are operating in the country, “often securing contracts outside of institutional norms” is also a worry.

Pryke added that the spread of a new wave of Chinese diaspora across the country setting up small and medium businesses also needed to be scrutinised to ensure these actors pay their fair share toward the PNG government’s revenue collection.

The regional mouth piece added that overall, China’s engagement in PNG should come as a net benefit, but as with all partners, must be closely managed.

He said that Australia has seemingly taken the approach of being PNG’s unjealous best friend, adding that although this was the case, recent Sino-PNG collaborations were sending mixed signals to Australia in matters of closeness with PNG.

“Australia takes the approach that PNG is entitled to be friends with all nations, but that we want to be the partner of choice or ‘best friend’ to PNG.

“The entrance of China means that we certainly have to up our game if we want to remain best friends with Papua New Guinea, which should be a good thing,” said the Lowy Institute Director.

He concluded that the real anxiety about China’s new-found engagement in PNG was two-fold.

The first being that China’s overwhelming presence has already had an undermining effect on already weak institutions through the apparent circumventing of procedures and the second being attempting to set up a dual-use or permanent military presence in PNG.

Pryke said that the proximity of PNG to Australia made it a country of historic and strategic importance and that it would do everything in its power to ensure PNG people remain respected and sovereign.

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