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Kramer on China, PNG & backdoor diplomacy

Good relationships, earned trust and gradualism can get you a long way in Papua New Guinea. But so can bribing the right people

Bryan Kramer - Corrupt PNG politicians and other conmen are experts at building relationships, and Australia seems not to recognise this


On Monday the ABC’s Patricia Karvelas interviewed prominent PNG politician and immigration minister Bryan Kramer for Radio National Breakfast. A number of PNG Attitude contributors heard the exchange and told me they were impressed by it, so I asked two of them to share their thoughts - KJ

PhilPHILIP FITZPATRICK - The Kramer interview was interesting both because of what he said and the clarity with which he said it.

Kramer is a former police and justice minister and is currently immigration and citizenship minister in the Marape government.

At first he explained how elections had changed in Papua New Guinea with the adoption of limited preferential voting (LPV), which allows voters to express three preferences in order.

Voters now offer to sell their first, second and third preferences, which has complicated the electoral market measurably.

Kramer noted that Chinese companies now support many of the major candidates and thus introducing a new element, which would be mainly money or material support, into the voting process.

Of great importance, if he is right, is his belief that the current election will determine where PNG goes geopolitically in an arena where, at present, Australia has sought to distance itself more from China.

In essence, Kramer’s view is that the election will determine whether PNG retains what it calls its ‘look-north policy’ or move closer to Australia.

If O’Neill wins it will look north; if Marape wins PNG may move even closer to Australia.

As an aside Kramer pointed out that the Marape-Morrison relationship was partly based on their religiosity. How Labor approaches a religious Marape may be something worth watching.

With respect to the moves by China to infiltrate PNG, he explained that China always takes the easiest road. If a back door exists they will take it.

This is a not so oblique reference to bribing politicians. Australia is at a disadvantage because, directly at least, it doesn’t engage in such behaviour.

Kramer explained how everything in PNG is personal and that corrupt PNG politicians and other conmen are experts at building relationships.

He said Australia seems not to recognise this fact.

Australia purportedly operates under the assumption that, as a developing country, PNG has an honest government. It is more likely Australia chooses to ignore corruption.

He also said Australia doesn’t understand how to deal with corrupt governments like the one in PNG.

The main take out from the interview was that Australia must understand the outcome of the PNG election whatever happens and deal with it appropriately.

He reiterated that PNG is Australia’s ‘fence line’ and it is crucial for its own security that it keeps the fence line in good hands.

If China is successful in PNG, the fence line becomes very dangerous.

Paul OatesPAUL OATES - Bryan Kramer conveyed with Melanesian subtlety the message that personal contact, trust and understanding are the important factors in building relationships with the Pacific.

This is something those who have never lived and worked in the Pacific can find it hard to understand.

The US stereotype of barging in with much implied power might seem to work but only creates animosity behind the external visage of politeness.

The Asian alternative of proffering business and wealth may be initially successful but if perceived to be harsh or unfair, will create animosity among its victims who see themselves in a zero sum game.

This was seen recently when Chinese traders in Solomon Islands had to be evacuated for their safety in the face of civil strife.

The age, old method of promising everything and giving little is often successful in the short term, sometimes longer, but it frequently ends in tears.

Australia is now confronted with a choice. Does it ally itself with one of the two big global powers and end up being ground down in a struggle of the Titans or is there another way?

The Melanesian concept of emphasising personal relationships and trust is not something that can be turned on and off quickly. It takes time and understanding to develop.

In my memoir, ‘Small steps along the way’, I wrote of my first patrol in PNG when I was struggling uphill in the rarefied highland air. A Councillor Rukanzinga took my arm and said, “Just take little steps. You’ll be OK.”

Good relationships, earned trust and gradualism can get you a long way in Papua New Guinea.


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Kindin Ongugo

It is now obvious why Bryan Kramer was relatively quiet on corruption during his first term in parliament.

The anti-corruption light within him prior to entering parliament was sucked out by the dark hole in the Haus Tambaran.

The reason for his dismissal was for scandalising the judiciary, not for misuse of public funds.

I have a bad feeling his appeal has a very good chance of being successful. he ruling probably gives a shot in the arm of the thieves in parliament.

Kindin Ongugo

The leadership tribunal has found Mr Kramer guilty of some charges. Let us wait for the penalty.

John Jamaica

Paul Oates mustn't have been in PNG for very long. Trust and friendship. Yeah, last until the cheque book disappears.

Paul went to PNG as a patrol officer in 1969 and remained until after independence in 1975. You may want to read his book which canvasses his considerable experience as a field officer and magistrate. Free download here: - KJ

Lahui Ako

A great summation of PNG’s current international relations. It requires a Foreign Policy White Paper to operationalize such relations so that the National interest becomes paramount or balanced with those of the countries we are dealing with bilaterally. Sadly the last time PNG wrote a Foreign policy white paper was in 1982. This white paper titled “active and selective engagement” superseded the “Friends to all, enemy to none” foreign policy at independence. 47 years on, a new white paper, taking into account the onset of Covid-19, current geopolitical situations, and mega trends is now of paramount importance. A case of Better late than never ☺️

Kindin Ongugo

The timing of Mr. Kramer's interview is interesting.

He was very vocal against corruption before entering parliament.

He certainly was quiet by his standards during his term in parliament.

The law and order situation in Madang has deteriorated while Kramer and Peter Yama engage in their war.

His prospect of returning does not look good.

Richard Jackson

A very modest couple of proposals in the area of what rather oddly might be termed 'soft power':

1. PNG Kumuls' membership of 'the greatest game of all' league be now fast-tracked (odd to think of 'rugby league' and 'soft' being associated in any sense).

2. Take steps to eliminate the growing feeling in PNG that getting a visa to visit Australia is difficult to the point of being discriminatory.

3. Above all else: rely on the general good sense, decency and honesty of the average Papua New Guinean, something that struck me first when I arrived there 50 years ago as being way above the international norm and which I firmly believe still holds true today. Don't lecture, do.

Bernard Corden

As the late P J O'Rourke once proclaimed.........." Wherever there is conflict in the world you can rely on the US to show up late and bomb the crap out of any neighbouring countries"

Bernard Corden

The godfather of public relations, spin and propaganda was an American theorist:

Philip Fitzpatrick

You've obviously been in that old kiap situation of out puripuring the puripuri men a few times Chips.

However I'm not sure the DFAT wallahs would understand the theory and, if they did, it would probably scare them shitless.

Chips Mackellar

I also heard Patricia Karvelas interviewing Bryan Kramer. He would have to be the most astute, articulate and best informed politician in our region.

He is the perfect communicator and it is a pleasure to listen to him speaking.

Aside from that, in the matter of personal contact and building relationships with our Pacific neighbours, who exactly are we talking about?

Do you mean the corrupt politicians who control the governments of our Pacific neighbours?

If you mean we should be establishing personal contacts with them, then this is easy. All we have to do is offer more money than what the Chinese are paying. But it won't work. The Chinese can always outbid us.

But there is another way, and in this context we should learn a few harmless ploys from the CIA's 'dirty tricks department'. A few friendly officials in each of our High Commissions in the region, making a few friendly contacts with the region's corrupt political leaders and a little but of applied Anthropology along the way should do the trick.

Remember in Melanesia, despite the hold of Christianity in the region, all Melanesians harbour a faint but residual morbidity of sorcery, sanguma, puri-puri, masalais and sundry things that go bump in the night.

It is all part of being Melanesian. It is in their DNA. And notwithstanding ingrained Christian beliefs, everywhere in Melanesia unusual happenings can always be blamed on the occult.

Freak traffic accidents, high winds, cyclones, droughts, new strains of covid, failed yam harvests and it doesn't matter what, can always be found an origin in the byways and boondocks of the supernatural.

So a little bit of disinformation, misinformation, and deliberate vagueries from our friendly High Commission staff could see the seeds of suspicion spreading amongst the family, followers and friends of the corrupt officials for them to suppose that notwithstanding Chinese largess, it is bad karma making deals with them.

Much better to stick with the Aussies, Kiwis, and Yanks who have always been, and still are, our friends.

It doesn't cost anything, so it is worth a try.

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