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Heated polemics over aid heighten China - Australia tensions

Australia-China-MaoFRANK CHEN | Asia Times

HONG KONG - Australia has renewed its animosity toward China in the new year, Chinese newspapers say, citing criticism from Canberra’s minister for international development and the Pacific, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells said this week that China-invested infrastructure projects in Pacific island countries were far less than effective, such as “roads that go nowhere,” and that Beijing had imposed “overbearing” clauses and “concessional loans” in its financial aid to these underdeveloped parts of the world.

Such remarks as “we just don’t want to build something for the heck of building it” were obviously aimed at China, adding more strain to the long-running tension between Beijing and Canberra concerning alleged espionage, political meddling and trade relations.

In a retort, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that allegations from anti-China reactionaries like Fierravanti-Wells were unfounded and that only the governments and people of the recipient countries have the final verdict as to the usefulness and effectiveness of China-led projects.

According to estimates by Sydney-based think-tank the Lowy Institute, China contributed more than A$2.3 billion in aid to Pacific countries in the decade since 2006, while the administrations of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and his predecessor Tony Abbott slashed A$11 billion from Australia’s development budget, including aid for neighbouring Pacific nations. That’s allowed China to step into the void.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Wednesday that Australian officials complained in private about Beijing’s surreptitious practice to win favour by funding projects with money “directly funnelled to leaders in the region.”

Fierravanti-Wells also told ABC she was concerned about the ability of Pacific countries such as Fiji and Papua New Guinea to pay back the loans that Beijing offers them.

Turnbull has been seeking to curb China’s influence in the region. For instance, he pledged last year to foot at least a third of the costs of PNG’s ambitious plan to host the 2018 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit to countervail the rising Chinese influence in the poverty-stricken nation.

Interestingly, whenever the Australian political circle and public discourse are stocked with rhetoric slamming Chinese hegemonism, Chinese newspapers including the Global Times have come up with similar accusations against Australian politicians.

The Global Times has alleged that Nick Warner, director general of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, once threatened Manasseh Sogavare, then prime minister of Solomon Islands, that if his country insisted on hiring Chinese telecommunications conglomerate Huawei to build a 4,000-kilometer submarine-cable connection to Sydney, Australia “would use torpedoes to destroy these cables.”

However, it appears that the Global Times had put words in Warner’s mouth. He had actually merely expressed concerns that the Huawei-installed cables might be vulnerable to external threats such as torpedoes, according to Fairfax Media.

Warner said Australia could refuse to grant the landing rights if the cable project endangered its national security.


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Paul Oates

Gosh Phil, you mean to say you haven't assiduously studied to DFAT Foreign Aid objectives and understood them? Diplospeak is alive and well and is merely an extension of the obligatory Bureaucratease.

Exactly what is spent in the recipient nation on the actual project and what is spent on behalf of the project should be a fertile field for investigation? Then there's the ongoing problem of maintenance that always seems to be forgotten about in the razzamatazz of the launch.

In regard to the Chinese objectives, one has only to evaluate how they are set up and where. Perhaps they are far more adept at achieving their aims since they don't have to answer to their population or media.

It's a good thing I haven't become as cynical as some others one could suggest?

Philip Fitzpatrick

"All lepers are as dependent on saints for their care just as as much as those who aspire to sainthood are dependent on outcasts to achieve their ambitions. Who then are the lepers?" Peter Spaedes.

Do we really know why China, or indeed Australia, directs their aid to particular projects and what they hope to get out of it?

Maybe the Chinese just want to be seen as nice people.

Maybe the Australians feel guilty.

Paul Oates

In order to get one's head around these issues it is important to understand the objectives of each participant.

Who actually benefits from the overseas aid gifts or loans?

If the objective is to gain ongoing influence over the leadership of another, less well off country, then it doesn't matter what becomes of the project as that is only the method of gaining the objective.

To those who see foreign aid as a way of cosmetically improving the facilities of a less well off country then the objective may well fall flat due to an inability over the eventual control over the project built in another nation.

The observer simply must look at any aid project through the right looking glass. It's all about control.

Gabriel Ramoi

My bed time companion now is Henry Kissinger's World Order,penguin(2015).The position of China,Japan,Russia,USA and that of Australia and PNG relative to the rise of China is better explained by the master.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Dangerous times Paul.

Paul Oates

Ed, at the risk of drifting off into regional issues, today's news report of an alliance building between Australia, Japan, the US etc. can't fail to be noticed by China since it is the potential threat from that direction that is causing the alliance to build.

History teaches us that the isolation of Japan in the thirties and the starving of her oil imports may have had the opposite effect than that intended.

I remember seeing a propaganda pamphlet from the old Soviet empire that automatically assumed everyone in a circle around their empire was either a real or potential enemy.

The essence of what is happening in our region is just as important as it was in the 1920's and 30's. Smaller players like PNG and other Pacific states need to understand that short term gain may lead to long term pain.

Australia's national interests will have to be very finely tuned in the near future. Remember Hitler's claim that he had no more territorial interests after he conned Chamberlain into conceding the Sudetenland?

National fervor is very easy to whip up into ultra national military action.

Ed Brumby

Re Paul's final point, according to a recognised authority, Nick Turse, the USA has troops on the ground in no less that 149 countries - which makes it an 'empire' of sorts. (There is, of course, much more evidence to support this view.)

That said, the cracks and fractures that have appeared in the USA's international relationships in recent times (viz Turkey and, as of yesterday, almost all of Africa); its ongoing (very expensive) failure to exert its will in Afghanistan and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in Syria, and the fact that, despite having the world's largest arsenal, it has not won a major military conflict since World War 2 suggest that the US empire is in a state of decline. Whether this decline can be arrested or will lead to inexorable collapse remains to be seen.

The questions surrounding the incumbent US president's competency and sanity cause one to wonder whether the collapse, if any, will happen with a whimper or a (very large) bang.

William Dunlop

Yes Paul. Time is of the essence. I have been in Australia, PNG, Australia,

For a 1/2 Century now, And in a few days 3/4 of a Century in this World.

And yet it seems like yesterday, Almost.

In the scheme of things a mere flicker.

Something the Body Politics's of this World could reflect on.

Paul Oates

China has historically had a centralist view of the world. The traditional Chinese view of what was referred to as the Middle Kingdom was that China was per-eminent and at the centre of the world. Located around the centre were Vassal States. Beyond the Vassal States were located the Barbarians.

In 1982, the Chinese Ambassador to Australia said in answer to a question about ‘waking the sleeping dragon’ that the Han people had never sought world domination. It was only after they were taken over by others (read Mongol Empire) that they became expansionist.

According to a popular author, who one assumes had done his homework, the tactics of the Mongol Genghis Khan and his successors in taking a city were well known. The method apparently consisted of three coloured tents that were erected on successive days outside the city that was under siege. On the first day, a white tent would be erected indicating that if the city capitulated and accepted Mongol rule and taxation, the city and its inhabitants would be spared. On the second day, a brown tent indicated that once captured, the people of the city would become slaves. On the third day, a black tent indicated that after the city was taken, everything would be destroyed and the people slain.

No one is suggesting that such Medieval tactics are being used today however what is clear is that China is breaking free of its isolation and is intent on rising again as a world power, if not the world power. In that situation, what view will such a world power hold about nations who surround her?

Enlightened leaders should now be thinking in terms of their people and the future of their country.

To get some indication of what might possibly be the situation in the future, we have only to look to the past and there are many examples in recorded history that could be studied.

All human empires eventually collapse however or so history tells us. It’s just a matter of time.

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