The National

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (April 24) - It is a matter of two weeks since the member for Usino-Bundi expressed some concerns over the likely impact upon his and other Madang people as an outcome of the Chinese funding of the Ramu nickel deposit.

His comments were followed smartly by an announcement, published by The National on Friday, that the Papua New Guinea Government has secured a grant of K19.3 million [US$6.7 million] from the Chinese for the Usino-Bundi to Ramu road project.

We naturally welcome the initiative; Madang, in common with many other provinces, desperately needs new roads and maintenance for those already existing. But can it be pure coincidence that the member’s comments were followed so promptly by the announcement of the funding from China?

To the people of the area, that question does not matter. To those in other parts of the country, and particularly to those with some knowledge of the Chinese government’s approach to aid for developing countries, there are muted alarm bells ringing.

PNG clearly welcomes aid, investment and all other legitimate forms of financial interest in this country. In a world increasingly guided by a market economy, PNG’s situation is clear; we have major resources that we can sell to the rest of the world, and provided the price, the continuity of supply, and the nation’s political situation is stable, we have many willing buyers.

Aid is another matter.

It has recently become fashionable to grumble about AusAID, to describe it as "boomerang aid" and to decry each and every effort made on our behalf or for our benefit by our former territorial power. In our opinion, Australian aid to this country has kept it afloat.

Whether or not that is desirable, whether it should continue, and a host of other related questions are not the subject of this editorial. There is one fact that cannot be denied, however. Australian aid and support comes from one Westminster parliamentary democracy to another.

Our neighbor’s government is based on universal suffrage, one person, one vote; their nation is governed by an elected parliament headed by a speaker, a prime minister and a cabinet and an opposition leader, as is ours, and the judicial and social systems are very similar to our own.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that China is a communist country. The Chinese parliament is elected by the people from candidates who must all be recognized members of the Communist Party. Almost all of the rest of the world has rejected communism as a political theory and as a mechanism for governing a country.

North Korea and Cuba are the significant exceptions.

In blunt terms, does Chinese aid and investment come without political strings?

That is a decision for the PNG Government of the day to determine, but our people who freely elect that government, know little about today’s China. The human rights record of one of the world’s most populous nations leaves a great deal to be desired. Freedoms that are taken for granted in PNG are barred in China. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech and publication and many other accepted benefits of PNG democracy are missing in China.

The worldwide battle between China and Taiwan, with the latter seeking international recognition, has spilled over into our own region. Both the Chinese and the Taiwanese are doing everything within their power to win the political support of the South Pacific nations, particularly as expressed in world forums. And each group backs up that determination with hefty financial inputs for those countries whose political stance is clear and unequivocal.

In the case of PNG, with one short-lived exception, our governments have staunchly supported the "one China" policy since independence, and the present government has made its commitment to that policy crystal clear. It is not our intention to take sides in this issue. Our government is determined to continue PNG’s political support for China, and our government represents the will of our people. That is one of the advantages of a parliamentary democracy.

Nevertheless, our people should be aware that in global politics, massive aid and investments come at a price. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

April 25, 2006

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