NOOSA – As covered in PNG Attitude on Wednesday, a fruitless Australian government mission to Daru to show the Western Province government it was a highly valued friend didn't end well.
It resulted in a hostile statement aimed at Australia from governor Taboi Awi Yoto, who I am told is usually a good humoured man.
Yoto said, after the Australian squad left, “It’s regrettable that all they want is for us to be subsistence farmers and fishermen and maintain our current status quo.
“Those [provincial officials] who were with me in that meeting can confirm that they lost the plot and minced their words.”
And to rub salt into the wound, Yoto added, “I am reliably informed that in Canberra it has been reported that we had fruitful meeting in Daru, when it wasn't.”
Within hours, Yoto had flown to Port Moresby to have a much more cordial visit with the Chinese Ambassador Xue Bing.
It was almost a shadow play designed to illustrate the difficulties
According to an official release from the Chinese embassy, “the two sides exchanged views on strengthening cooperation in energy, mining, agriculture, forestry, fishery, trade and other fields.”
Xue pointed out that China and Papua New Guinea are “comprehensive strategic partners” and that in recent years the bilateral relationship was “stronger than any time in history”.
“China will continue to follow the principle of sincerity, real results, amity and good faith and upholding justice while pursuing shared interests,” he said.
There is also a will to undertake exchanges and cooperation with national and provincial governments that will bring tangible benefits, including for the people of Western Province.
Governor Yoto responded that Western Province is the largest in PNG and rich in natural resources such as oil, gas, agriculture, forestry and fishery, and has great potential for development.
He presented Xue with a copy of the Western Province Development Plan and expressed his hope that the Chinese government could provide aid to the province to help it achieve economic and social development and improve people's living standards.
Yoto also thanked Fujian Zhonghong Fishery Company for its recent plan to invest a fishery industrial park on Daru Island.
He said the project would bring practical benefits to the local people, and more Chinese investors are welcome to invest and set up businesses in Western Province.
The Australian government must be wondering what it needs to do to secure a more stable relationship in Papua New Guinea.
With Western Province showing serious dissatisfaction with Australia's efforts, Bougainville pushing strongly towards independence with a no-nonsense leader, and the likelihood of community pushback to its Covic vaccine roll-out (no detail yet), these are testing times in Canberra and Waigani.