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.