BOUGAINVILLE PRESIDENT QUESTIONS U.S.

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Momis says China has shown more willingness to invest

By Jemima Garrett MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, March 7, 2011) - The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, issued a warning over the weekend that Papua New Guinea (PNG) is one part of the Pacific where the US is engaged in a strategic competition with China over resources and leadership in the region.

But Bougainville's president, John Momis, says the United States is conspicuous by its lack of investment in Papua New Guinea and that he would welcome more.

As the United States attempts to deal with its massive debt, secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is doing her best to ensure climate change programs for the Pacific are spared the axe. When she went before the United States foreign relations committee, last week, she highlighted US strategic interests.

She said "Let's put aside the moral, humanitarian, do-good side of what we believe in, and let's just talk, you know, straight realpolitik. We are in a competition with China. Take Papua New Guinea, huge energy find, to go to one of Senator Lugar's very strong points. Exxon Mobil is producing it. China is in there every day in every way trying to figure out how it's going to come in behind us, come in under us. They're supporting the dictatorial regime that unfortunately is now in charge of Fiji. They have brought all of the leaders of these small Pacific nations to Beijing, wined them and dined them. I mean, if anybody thinks that our retreating on these issues is somehow going to be irrelevant to the maintenance of our leadership in a world where we are competing with China that is a mistaken notion."

Hillary Clinton may not want to see Pacific climate change programs cut but that has not stopped questions being asked about whether the US has left the door open to China in this region.

Bougainville is home to the massive British and Australian-owned Panguna copper mine and is prospective for more minerals. Bougainville's president, John Momis, is one of Papua New Guinea's elder statesmen and its former ambassador to China.

He says the Exxon Mobil led Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to US investment. "That's one off. Apart from that, the US is conspicuous by its absence in Bougainville."

China, on the other hand is looking into a wide range of projects in PNG. President Momis says Chinese companies have shown interest in taking a stake in the Panguna copper mine.

Bougainville is still recovering from a civil war in the 1990s which left thousands dead, closed Panguna and destroyed much of the islands infrastructure. Australia and Papua New Guinea are supporting Bougainville's reconstruction.

President Momis says economic and social development is a priority and he is keen to welcome new investors. "We now have Chinese entrepreneurs on the ground looking at possibilities of farming, fishing, shipping, setting up a technical college. The Chinese government, or the embassy, has said to us that they would be prepared to build a technical college. We've also had an offer from Europe, a private offer, not government, to build a technical college. We do need, in my view we need to have good technical colleges to produce educated, technically qualified people."

President Momis has just completed a week-long visit to Australia at the invitation of the Australian Government. He flew out on Sunday confident that he will get a good hearing for his request that more of Australia's increasing aid budget go to Bougainville. The visit was just part of a hectic schedule.

"When I led a delegation to China we signed seven Memorandums Of Understanding (MOU). We are encouraging Chinese and some Australians as well as Kiwis, and any other investor who is interested, to go into joint venture with us. I have gone in public to say we will not encourage standalone business, foreign business. We would prefer to encourage joint-venture businesses. Of course, the question of equity will be negotiated. We don't have the capital not the technology and so on and so forth."

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