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China: Strings implicit & designed to entrap

Muddy beach at Daru (AAP)
Clothes hanging over a muddy beach at Daru island, just four kilometers from the Australian border


ADELAIDE - I think Michael Kabuni's analysis is basically correct. Australia's policy in relation to Papua New Guinea has indeed been deficient and reactive in some respects.

While I agree that the proposed Daru fisheries deal should bring economic benefits to PNG and the Western Province, I wonder how significant the benefits will be in the long term.

China's approach to fishing appears to be based upon large scale exploitation of fish stocks with little regard to sustainability although, in fairness, it is not the only offender in this regard.

With respect to security issues, there is no doubt that the Chinese government will exploit the intelligence gathering opportunities offered by having a fleet of fishing trawlers located so close to the Australian mainland. It would make no sense for them to do otherwise.

The ‘Five Eyes’ (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and USA) all use various means to gather intelligence about China's military and other activities so there is no reason to think China will not act the same way.

It is all part of the modern version of the 19th century ‘Great Game’, which was a competition for power and influence between the major world powers.

In this 21st century the game that is now played out in the Pacific and elsewhere.

I think that if there is a flaw in Michael Kabuni's thinking it may lie in not paying sufficient attention to the broader strategic context within which the fishing deal is being offered.

A lesson of history is that deals offered under the aegis of major powers never come without strings attached.

Those strings may be explicit or implicit, but they are always there.

Papua New Guinea is at risk of only ever finding out about those strings after the deal is done and it is effectively locked into an arrangement that may work in ways that it did not intend or envisage.


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Paul Oates

One of the problems in a cultural clash is that all sides in the debate naturally tend to revert to their traditional cultural perspectives. This ensures that any clash of ideas that involves totally different cultures will inevitably end up in a misunderstanding of motives.

Anthropologists talk about the theory of reciprocity. Many Australians used to come from a Judeo-Christian history and traditions. I do mean ‘used to’, considering that this was prior to the advent of social media. Self-gratification and the accumulation of material goods and wealth has become the objective of many young people rather than putting a high emphasis on the intrinsic and spiritual value of ‘giving’. The vestiges of this western culture are still sometimes observed today. At the scene of any horrific traffic accident or crime, people will generously leave bunches of flowers as a demonstration of their sympathy and concern, even if they were in no way involved.

Food aid and free gifts of aid funds are made in the often vain but somewhat understandable hope that the ‘giver’ might just receive some due consideration and understanding from the ‘receiver’. Over the last few decades, immense amounts of food have been distributed in Africa from the food producers elsewhere in the world. Every decade however the problems seem to get worse rather than better. Those leaders of these African nations however often live in majestic palaces while their people are starving.

Problems arise as well when the ‘receiver’ comes from a culture where the theory of reciprocity is more pronounced. That equates to: ‘If you give me something of value, naturally you expect to receive something from me of equal value in return’.

Should you give something of relatively immense value to someone who clearly isn’t ever able to repay the debt, you could create ill feelings and a sense that it was your fault for not understanding how the local reciprocity works. Examples of this situation are all over the so-called ‘developing world’. ‘Why do you have more than I have and how did this come about’, led to the PNG custom of ‘cargo cults’.

Nineteenth Century Christianity in western cultures saw their obligation to ‘help’ those less fortunate people, whether those actually making donations ever really thought about how those donations would be received, or even if those donations ever made it to the grass roots and coal face where it was needed most.

Today we still see this conflict of culture and perspectives being played out by those who are constantly accused of not sharing their wealth by those who have often managed to waste the monetary aid previously supplied. The concept of ‘Foreign Aid’ often translates into poor people in rich countries giving aid or money to rich people in poor countries’. This effectively sums up many current foreign aid donations from western nations. Not so aid from other non-western nations however.

People from non-western cultural backgrounds have taken a reflective look at the previous attempts at foreign aid. It has been noted in many instances that the so called, foreign aid from certain non ‘western powers’ has been intentionally engineered to create a far more effective obligation. ‘Non-western’ powers, being devoid of the past encumbrances of any Judeo-Christian beliefs, know that the price of achieving dramatic and systematic influence in a recipient aid nation is to pay a far smaller ‘donation’ directly to those few in power. This payment thereby achieves serious and direct results.

Another recent method of gaining serious influence is to use the non-western nation’s internally own home generated funds and own workers to build huge construction projects in poorer nations in Asia, Africa and the Pacific. These recipient nations are then never able to repay the implied debt. At a given time, the project is then taken over by the builder as a logical and intentional projection of implied imperial power, in return for excusing a long-standing debt. This could be summed up as a ‘win/win/lose’. Those winning are the current supplier and local recipient political leader’s bank account and those losing are the future people’s sovereignty of the receiving nation.

So where does that leave PNG in this seemingly irreconcilable imbroglio? Past experience in PNG village culture would tend to suggest that the process of playing all sides off against the middle will usually achieve desired results for those in charge of the game. That is, unless tribal warfare from outside the tribe then wipes out the local tribal leaders who have merely and logically been playing the game they inherited and learned to play.

However, unless a war or revolution starts, why change the habits of a lifetime when they continue to work and work well? Why rock the boat?

Prior to the French Revolution, the last French King that died with his head still attached, was totally indulgent and indifferent to his people’s suffering (Louis the 15th) merely observed that his successor (Louis the 16th), was bound to inherit a big problem.

There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Philip Fitzpatrick

It was only a couple of decades ago that an industrial park was proposed for Wipim, just west of Boze on the mainland.

I don't know who was behind that idea but it died a natural death.

The district headquarters was also supposed to be moved from Daru to Wipim around 2010.

Never happened either.

Stephen Charteris

Historically industrial park development models have not benefitted local people by any measure of the sustainable development indicators.

The history of enclave developments, mines, oil palm estates, tuna packing plants and others, demonstrate that meaningful human capital development coupled with economic empowerment is rarely part of the outcome.

I can only imagine the social issues likely to arise from the increased number of people on Daru needed to work in a processing plant, especially if they move in from other provinces.

There may be a tempting element of 'big business' in the proposed development, however I think the scattered riverine communities would rather see improved health and education services brought to where they are.

This, coupled with the sensible use of their customary land and waterways to enable them to derive sufficient income to meet basic desires, is more in keeping with the message I have received from communities in Middle and South Fly.

Any 'development' that concentrates wealth in an enclave, brings detrimental social consequences, further marginalises communities, pollutes their environment, erodes traditional authority over land, water, customs and values and is unlikely to be in their best interests.

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