China & Australia hold perils for PNG
23 June 2021
WARRADALE, SA - In September 1999, I went to East Timor (Timor-Leste) to work with an aid agency in the aftermath of the 25-year civil war and the savage lead-up to the independence referendum.
It is almost impossible to imagine the devastation that was visited on this former province of Indonesia that became an independent but desperately poor nation.
I left in large part because it seemed to me that the welfare of the East Timorese people appeared to be a fairly low priority for the United Nations-led aid and reconstruction program.
One example, the UN could have offered building materials to some of the tens of thousands of people in Dili whose houses had been torched so they could rebuild.
The people could then have offered accommodation for the hundreds of UN officials who arrived to carry out desperately needed activities.
But instead, the UN chartered a huge floating hotel at truly enormous cost to house its officials in four-star comfort. I vividly remember the palpable anger and resentment among the hundreds of Timorese gathered at the beach to watch it berth.
There was a sealed road from Dili to Baucau, the second city of East Timor, about 120 kms away along the north coast.
It passed through Manatuto, a town of 15,000 that had been largely wiped off the map by the Indonesians because it was independence leader Xanana Gusmao’s home town.
It was a narrow winding road but perfectly serviceable. Indeed, a pleasant three-hour drive if you ignored the complete devastation on both sides all the way to Baucau, which was relatively untouched. I did that trip a number of times.
In May 2018, my wife and I visited Timor-Leste as tourists. Things had changed for the better, only because they could not have got any worse than they were in 1999.
I found that the Chinese government, as part of its official aid program, had undertaken to upgrade the road from Dili to Baucau. That seemed to me a good thing until we came to drive it ourselves.
We found the whole length, 120 kilometres of bitumen, had been ripped up. There were patchy works being carried out at odd points along the road, but what in 1999 had been a fairly smooth three-hour drive was now a bone-shaking, exhausting six- hour nightmare.
I thought this was an odd way to approach an engineering task. It had effectively turned one of the key transport links in the country into a major drain on its day-to-day affairs, causing economic and social disruption on a grand scale. It would have been better to completely rebuild the first 10 kms, then move to the next 10 kms, and so on.
Suddenly, the penny dropped. If the Chinese government got annoyed by anything the Timor-Leste government did, or if the Timor-Leste government failed to toe the Chinese line in even small ways, the Chinese could retaliate.
“If you want that highway finished, then don’t cause us problems!” seemed to be the real, if unspoken, threat.
In September 2017, Timor-Leste had arrested a Chinese fishing fleet that was illegally shark-fin fishing in their territorial waters. There was incontrovertible evidence of the crimes, as well as clear evidence about the economic loss and the huge environmental damage done by this fleet.
In May 2018, as the Chinese illegal fishers were about to go to court, they were suddenly, inexplicably allowed to leave. The Timor-Leste prosecutor’s office said they were not guilty of violating any laws.
It seemed to me to be a case of undue pressure from China on a nation that could not fight back.
There is an even more disgusting display of bullying that was carried out by Alexander Downer with the approval of John Howard in 2004.
Australia had decided to bug the Timor-Leste cabinet office to gain an advantage in negotiations about who owned how much of the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
The main winner from that espionage was Woodside Petroleum. Upon leaving politics, Downer joined Woodside as a highly paid consultant.
Timor-Leste, tipped off about the Australian government’s dishonesty, took the matter to the International Court of Justice and won, humiliating Australia.
This has culminated in the secret trials in Australia of Timor-Leste’s informant, the spy known as Witness K, and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery in a process akin to what you might expect in Stalin’s Russia.
Instead of Downer going on trial for illegal interference in the sovereign affairs of another country, whistleblower Witness K, who pleaded guilty, was made a criminal and had his life destroyed.
His lawyer, Collaery, a respected former Attorney-General of the Australian Capital Territory, is being tried secretly for defending his client.
There are major lessons here for Papua New Guinea.
As China spends millions of kina and much diplomatic effort into resource projects or ‘development’ projects, the PNG government could well find itself having to go along with unforeseen but entirely inevitable consequences.
Be it the Frieda River mine, the mooted Daru fisheries hub or some other project, China would not have the slightest scruples about putting its interests in PNG before those of the host nation.
I suspect that China is already building into its diplomacy mechanisms that in future will allow it to impose on PNG huge penalties for failing to bend to its will.
On top of that, knowing the depths that Australian diplomacy will sink to when unprincipled politicians put the interests of private companies above treating other countries ethically, who knows what could be in store for PNG.
The shameful conniving with Indonesia by Labor’s foreign minister Gareth Evans in 1989 that led to the grossly unfair border between East Timor and Australia is another example of these depths.
We know much about what the Australian government did to support CRA in Bougainville in the civil war of 1989-2000.
We also know something of the US and Indonesian governments’ conspiracy that undermined the prospects of an independent West Papua and that ensured the Freeport mine would remain in ‘safe’ hands.
The lessons could not be clearer.
With friends like China and Australia, Timor-Leste, PNG and the rest of the Pacific islands really don’t need enemies.
The Maritime Executive https://www.maritime-executive.com/article/chinese-shark-fishing-fleet-released-without-charge
Million Dollar Illegal Catch Forgotten https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-30/million-dollar-illegal-catch-forgotten/9925890
The Story of the Shameful Timor Prosecution https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/the-story-of-the-shameful-timor-prosecution
Gangsters for Capitalism: Downer, Woodside and ‘Witness K’ https://redflag.org.au/node/6482
Australias Agreement with Timor-Leste does not have a Positive History https://www.smh.com.au/opinion/australias-agreement-with-timor-leste-does-not-have-a-positive-history-20170908-gydn6v.html
Let’ s cut to the chase folks. All of your comments pale into insignificance when the Chinese People's Army occupies Taiwan.
When that happens, Australia should occupy the Admiralty Islands, New Hanover, Simpson Harbour, Bougainville, Milne Bay and Fairfax Harbour, with or without the approval of the inhabitants, as China intends to do to the Taiwanese people.
These islands, ports and harbours are vital strategic locations to the sovereignty of Australia.
The Admiralties (Manus) will predominantly be Royal Australian Navy. New Hanover should become a Special Forces headquarters. Simpson Harbour (Rabaul) a very large RAAF/RAN base. Bougainville - militia. Milne Bay - Army. Port Moresby's Fairfax Harbour - Defence headquarters.
Prior to that scenario, Australia must immediately establish 100 RAN Australian Coastwatchers throughout PNG territorial waters now to counter the Chinese Communist Part armed militia trawlers and flyover aircraft as in Taiwan territorial waters.
Posted by: Burnie Gough | 28 June 2021 at 09:02 AM
Good evening, Keith. I like this topic but wish to make a submission in support not as a comment. How do I do that?
Hi Burnie. Email me as [email protected] - KJ
Posted by: Burnie Gough | Ex PNG Volunteer Rifles | 27 June 2021 at 05:44 PM
Jim Moore - The uplifting of the large floating accommodation module/vessel was as you say by heavy lift vessel to expedite its arrival in Dili to meet the UN's requirements, and, as you say, at great cost.
I had the contract in Darwin for a number of years, carrying out blast and painting of subsea Headers for Diamond Offshores floating oil rigs, which were moved around by tugs.
The accommodation module/vessel was later moved to the Port of Darwin by tug. Later, when the US Marines hired it to move to Japan, it accommodated four people in each room/cabin.
Bill McKibben - Yes indeed, the Highlands Highway had been previously upgraded in 1979-80 under the management of the late Peter McGuinn the Works and Supply major projects civil engineer who drove a hard bargain.
Thereafter, the PNG politicians failed to provide adequate funding for the preventive maintenance of most Highways in the country.
Posted by: William Dunlop | 25 June 2021 at 08:29 AM
Your road trip is reminiscent of the Nadzab to Lae along the Highlands Highway. What was once a pleasant drive has became an ordeal since the Chinese funded upgrade commenced years ago.
The last time I drove this road (last year) the Lae - Wau junction (9 Mile) section was completed. The completion rate seems to be about one kilometer a year.
At the going rate I would anticipate that maybe about 2040 the upgrade will reach Nadzab.
Posted by: Bill McKibben | 24 June 2021 at 07:31 PM
Lo and behold, we were back in Dili by Boxing Day 2000, still involved in pharmaceutical distribution warehouses.
Kagoshima Corp, the Japanese construction conglomerate approached me with a view to supplying them a complete range of picking and pallet racking for the new distribution warehouse they had just constructed in Dili in an aid project on behalf of the Japanese government.
The Timorese Department of Health had recommended us to them, and they told me they had insisted we be given the opportunity to quote. We were successful and procured product from Metalux of Barcelona, Spain.
We had the three containers of product on Dili wharf on Boxing Day from Barcelona via Singapore - just 28 days from the receipt of payment in my Darwin bank.
Five days later, we handed the completed project over to the Kadashima Corp, who handed over the keys to the Crown Agents of the United Kingdom, the new distribution managers.
My foreman and I stayed in the Amos W accommodation vessel, gratis this time.
I had first stayed on the Amos W in December 1999, sharing a cabin with Robyn Murphy, founder of Canstruct Brisbane.
Follow this link to read the story of Robin Murphy from PNG Attitude, October 2019 - KJ
Posted by: William Dunlop | 24 June 2021 at 08:19 AM
An afterthought. Timor-Leste's agonising war for independence lasted 25 years. Should West Papua's future follow a similar path (heaven forbid), I presume diplomatic responses in the region would be along these lines:
Australia - Hold on a bit, while we ask Price Waterhouse Coopers what we think.
PNG - We think whatever China says we should.
China - Of course we support independence for a resource-rich, low population West Papua, that would be much easier to subvert and control than an Indonesian-ruled province.
Posted by: Jim Moore | 23 June 2021 at 05:30 PM
The floating accommodation vessels, not self-propelled, of which there were two were moved around the world by tugs.
They were owned by Internship of London, and originally provided accommodation for oil rig workers. Two persons to a small cramped en suite cabin. No star ratings here.
Dunlop Enterprises provided bunkering and providoring services to Internship in Dili as well as the Port of Darwin during this period.
Dunlop Enterprises also provided services to a number of organisations in East Timor, as it was then, including the UN.
Goal Ireland on behalf of the U N had us procure for them shelving and racking to set up an emergency pharmaceutical distribution warehouse.
Neither the Portuguese nor the Indonesians had bothered in their time.
We did it in two weeks from start to finish, including shipping from Darwin. I went at my own expense to Dili, engaged Timorese workers and did the complete installation gratis as my personal aid project.
Posted by: William Dunlop | 23 June 2021 at 05:10 PM