Nine things you need to know about this APEC leaders’ week
PNG roll out red carpet for APEC but locals live in poverty

Some strings attached - but they're not Melanesian

China's flag flies alongside the Papua New Guinean kumul - contributing to many people's mystification about what APEC is really all about

BEN JACKSON | Sun-Earth-Sea Blog

PORT MORESBY - Over thousands of years Papua New Guinea has developed cultural aesthetics that are intricate, diverse and highly regarded by admirers around the world.

Art, architecture and artefacts reveal much about the spirit of the day – they sit at the intersection of people, place and time, and help to tell their collective story.

In 2018, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is ubiquitous in PNG and, whatever your views on trade liberalisation and neoclassical economic thought, it is undeniable that this annual forum is by far the largest event ever hosted by the country.

One could reasonably expect that, with the global spotlight shining brightly on Papua New Guinea, its rich cultures would be showcased to the thousands of visitors and world leaders.

But Papua New Guinea is the self-proclaimed ‘land of the unexpected’ and on the streets of Waigani, the country’s political heart, there are no signs of its inimitable Sepik wood-carved sculptures, traditional kundu and garamut drums, or natural fibre weaves.

Chinese lanterns
Decorative Chinese lanterns hung in Port Moresby for APEC

There is a distinct and ancient culture on show and it is definitively not Melanesian.

The scene in Waigani is instead dotted with the oriental lanterns, street decorations and even an ornate paifang gateway of China.

Port Moresby residents have been left mystified by the foreign displays of influence and the lack of opportunities given to the many talented Papua New Guinean artists, who struggle to find paid work.

“I feel like it should be China hosting APEC rather than Papua New Guinea,” said Lohia, a former journalist from Central Province.

“We have more than 800 cultures – we should be displaying those for the other countries and world leaders to see what our country is all about.”

Kokopo fishtrap lamp
These lamps (photo taken in Kokopo), made in the style of traditional East New Britain fish-traps, could have served the same purpose while promoting Melanesian culture

“They should invest more in our cultural items, images and murals to go up – a toea shell, a kina shell, a Sepik bilum – something that represents us.”

Art is a great source of pride for people in every corner of the country and connects modern Papua New Guinean life to its millennia-old heritage.

Lohia believes the propagandistic muscle flexing has added another layer of societal scepticism towards APEC.

“People from the community I come from don’t understand what APEC is all about,” he said.

“They ask ‘how is it going to move PNG forward?’ The grassroots don’t really know.

“It makes them worried to see in the newspaper, or watching the news, that so much money is coming into our country when they are not the ones benefiting from it.”

The longer term impact, if any, of Papua New Guinea’s APEC year is unclear. There is also uncertainty about whether Waigani’s Chinafication will be ephemeral or if it could allude to the zeitgeist of a new era.

Lohia is concerned the disregard for local cultural icons in favour of Chinese imagery could symbolise a broader shift of influence in Papua New Guinea.

“We’re an independent state - we have so many cultures,” he said, “why don’t we use those cultures?”

“Independence Boulevard has all these Chinese ornaments hanging – somebody was saying that it represents good luck.”

“But what luck should it bring to us? There are strings attached.”


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Arthur Williams

I have a friend who decided to teach English as second language in Slovenia. I always thought I was good at geography but couldn’t remember what its capital is. Wikipedia gave the answer as Ljubljana.

Perhaps why I didn’t recall it was it had been part of Yugoslavia when I was in school.

It is not of course to be confused with Slovakia as did the International Hockey Federation in 2017 when it played Slovenia’s national anthem when Slovakia beat Italy. Mind they are in good company as Presidents George W Bush and Berlusconi have also publicly made the mistake.

At least the current USA President shouldn’t get confused because his wife is from Slovenia. Mind you his first wife is from Czechoslovakia.

I found out such international faux pas are not unique as in ‘2016 Copa America’ Played Chile’s anthem instead of Uruguay’s.

The New Ireland provincial government's flag was illegal until we voted in the assembly to correct its colours.

Chris Overland

The first Europeans who had contact with the Imperial Chinese government regarded their bureaucrats and officials as deeply inscrutable.

The Chinese had been trained to not reveal any indication of their true feelings or intentions to those they dealt with and, so it is said, often replied to direct questions with ambiguous answers.

Chinese language and symbology was and is similarly ambiguous. Slight changes in tone of voice can alter the meaning of a word or sentence. Similarly, written Chinese figures are full of subtleties and nuances.

In short, Chinese bureaucrats have long been the masters of using subtlety and ambiguity in saying one thing while meaning another.

I am sure that the lanterns on display in Port Moresby are, at one level at least, merely decoration. However, as many astute Papua New Guineans have realised, they also send another message.

That message is that China's power and authority has grown to the point where ostentatious displays of its cultural icons cannot be refused by those in power or, perhaps, are simply unrecognised as such.

PNG is on the path to becoming a tributary state to China: the loans and favours it has received will allow China to remorselessly tighten its grip on PNG's political and business elites.

This has been the modus operandi of the Chinese state over many millennia and the mere fact that the current government is ostensibly communist does not mean that this has changed.

By the time the powers that be in PNG become fully aware of their peril, I expect that it will be far too late to reverse course.

The Australian government has been gravely remiss in failing to understand what has been happening until far too late.

Its near panic reaction in "rediscovering" the Pacific nations to the north is belated recognition of this fact.

What damn fools they have been.

Bernard Corden

When Bob Hawke visited Ottawa in 1985 the New Zealand flag was mistakenly raised in his honour:

Philip Fitzpatrick

Australia and DFAT have definitely missed out here.

Where are all the Australian icons? Blokes in slouch hats, bouncing kangaroos, boomerangs et al.

Kongkongs rule?

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