TUMBY BAY - You’ve probably heard the old adage which says there is no such thing as a free lunch.
The adage alludes to the belief that nothing in life is free, including acts of kindness and charity.
Any such act always creates an obligation of reciprocity.
Papua New Guineans and other Melanesian societies are very familiar with this rule. The so-called ‘big man system’ is based on the concept.
Someone from another tribe offering assistance is never viewed with pleasure. Even the most innocent offer of help is suspicious.
“What are they up to; what do they want,” is the usual reaction.
In Western society, with its emphasis on individualism, acts of kindness and charity often lead to feelings of resentment on the part of the recipient.
In the West there is no surer way to make people dislike and even hate you than to lend them money.
Borrowing money at a personal level is demeaning and an admission of your inferiority to the lender.
People even get upset when they are offered help by sympathetic friends or relatives.
“I don’t need your charity!” is often the angry response.
These same elements operate at the macro level, particularly in geo-political relationships.
In many instances they were one of the factors leading to decolonisation movements. Just as exploitation could engender anger among a subject people so too could overt paternalism.
While Australia thought it was a good world citizen helping to bring Papua New Guinea to nationhood many Papua New Guineans felt it was simply exercising its innate sense of superiority over what it saw as a lesser people.
In recent years this attitude is reflected in responses to interventions like RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands.
While Australia may have thought it was helping a smaller fellow nation in the South Pacific and restoring stability to the region, many Solomon Islanders saw the exercise as Australia interfering where it was not wanted.
The present comments by the Solomon Islands’ prime minister that Australia needs to be ‘stood up to’ is consistent with this.
This may please China and fit with its plan to isolate Taiwan, but by seeking to impose its loans and help in building infrastructure it will inevitably lead to a build-up of suspicion, fear and then hatred.
This has already happened in Papua New Guinea. Chinese loans are accepted by greedy politicians but for the general population China’s increasing presence is a source of growing distaste.
China might not realise it but its push into the Asia-Pacific is building up unplanned enmities, and not just from Australia and the United States.