THE CHINESE CONNECTION IN PNG

Commentary

By Ilya Gridneff

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, June 2, 2009) – A former Chinese dissident gets deported and growing anti-Chinese violence breaks out while the power of the local Asian mafia rises amid claims of widespread police corruption.

It sounds like a plot for a Hollywood action thriller, but it’s just a slice of everyday life in Papua New Guinea.

The opening scenes would show former Chinese government dissident Gu Kai being forced awake from his sleep and taken from his Port Moresby home, beaten by police, blindfolded, then taken hostage and driven to the outskirts of town.

In a hotel room he is beaten again, forced to sign affidavits accusing the PNG police commissioner of corruption and when he refuses, the beatings continue.

Next morning police and immigration department officials take the luggage-less, passport-less, battered and bruised man to the airport and deport him to Hong Kong.

Allegations arise that behind the deportation is a mysterious mainland Chinese woman who was previously deported for alleged Asian mafia dealings. The plot thickens as it reveals some Chinese businesses may have financially contributed to the "operational costs" involved for those police to expel Gu Kai.

Gu Kai was not just one of the thousands of "new Chinese" suspected of illegally living and working in PNG, he was also a vocal critic and vehement campaigner against corruption and alleged Chinese businesses’ illegal activities and illegal workers.

And he was believed to be a police, tax office and National Intelligence Organisation informant.

But other PNG officials say Gu Kai was simply protecting his own illegal interests, speaking out to stifle his competition.

PNG’s Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Sam Abal told AAP he was seeking "a more detailed explanation on the Gu Kai affair.

"I have heard rumours too but have not had them substantiated," Mr. Abal said.

Change of scene to PNG’s Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare office. The country’s leader admitted this week that corruption in PNG’s police force, labour and immigration departments was a factor behind a week of civil unrest that involved looting of Chinese shops over community anger that the Chinese were taking jobs and business away from locals.

Abal said corruption, not just in immigration, was "paralysing PNG’s systems".

Neither politician offered solutions nor took responsibility, but told PNG citizens they should take out their frustrations through the proper channels.

"We live in a country that boasts a strong constitution and institutions which are in place to deal with allegations of abuse and illegal conduct," Sir Michael said.

Peter Aitsi, from Transparency International’s (TI) PNG branch, said the general public had neither faith nor confidence in the procedures of police, labour and immigration departments.

"We’re getting to a point where if we don’t take a stand this country is lost," he said.

TI last year put PNG as the most corrupt country in the Pacific and globally ranked it 151 worst out of 180 countries surveyed. Senior PNG police insiders have told AAP that the Chinese mafia has divided the force and buys protection and influence in all institutions.

One officer told AAP: "If I am going to do an investigation I have to be extremely careful who I tell or ask to help ... if it is the wrong person, it jeopardises everything."

Another officer said it was a well known secret as to who was working for which faction of the Chinese mafia.

"It’s not just the police but everywhere along the chain, if they weren’t able to get in, then police wouldn’t be able to take their bribes," he said.

"If it is this bad now, imagine in five years time."

PNG’s police Commissioner Gari Baki told AAP that Asian crime in PNG was "quite a significant issue" amid the myriad of other law and order problems.

"The influx of Chinese is an eye opener for us," he said.

"How do we control it? How do we stop the illegals. It needs a collective government approach.

"Yes there is evidence of Asians fighting against Asians in this country. And targeting businesses, obviously it’s happening.

"It hurts a lot when you know the truth of the matter is like this (corrupt police)."

Pan across to the usually idyllic Madang Province on PNG’s northwest coast for another plot twist involving more anti-Chinese sentiment over the Ramu nickel and copper mine.

Australian company Highlands Pacific couldn’t find a company interested to dive into the low grade copper, considering the nickel prices, but Somare brokered a $A1 billion deal with the Chinese.

"I have no regrets," Sir Michael Somare said responding to questions about the mine’s many controversies.

On May 10, tensions exploded at the MCC Chinese-run mine after a Chinese manager driving a tractor accidentally ran over a PNG national. Workers then smashed property, 30 cars and seriously injured three Chinese managers who were airlifted to a Port Moresby hospital.

Under PNG labour laws, jobs like driving trucks or tractors are protected for PNG workers. But this was overshadowed by Rhonda Nadile, a Labour Department executive, who said MCC workers entered PNG "despite strong opposition from the Department".

Chinese mine workers, and Chinese around the country, are regularly issued work permits despite not meeting PNG’s labour laws that require all non-citizens to speak English.

In November last year 104 illegal Chinese mine workers were arrested after immigration and labour raids.

According to Ms Nadile, labour laws are circumvented because of the project’s importance. The PNG government has also been accused of allowing the mine’s construction to go ahead despite ongoing disputes between landowners about who has traditional ownership of the site.

In August last year three Chinese mine workers were attacked by 100 armed landowners. This month’s trouble in Madang was echoed in Port Moresby when Noel Anjo Kolae organised a 100-strong anti-Chinese protest that ended in violence and looting. It sparked a week of similar attacks across PNG.

Mr Kolae said the influx of "new Chinese" has squeezed locals out of small-scale business like food bars and shops that are supposed to be reserved for PNG citizens.

Corrupt PNG officials and police are protecting these businesses and the grassroots has had enough, he said.

"All of PNG is fed up. We are tired and frustrated," he said.

"It’s not opportunists protesting as the government says, it’s police, public servants, soldiers and even church men."

The attacks in Port Moresby, Lae, Madang, Goroka and Mt Hagen in the Mamose and Highlands regions resulted in four looters reportedly being shot.

In a tragic ending, two died in PNG’s second biggest city, Lae. There is no exact number of how many Chinese are in PNG, estimates suggests 20,000 with that figure split between mainland Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesia and Singaporean.

At least 10 requests since late last year for an interview with the Chinese Ambassador to PNG to discuss the issues have proved fruitless, despite guarantees.

Sir Michael said those looting and rioting were "impatient" and "opportunists" and "criminals" not prepared to wait for the trickle down of billions of dollars worth of Asian trade and investment.

Those at the grassroots, with little, say they are being squeezed further to society’s margins.

As their resentment grows, so do the chances of an equally tragic sequel.

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