Abu Dhabi


New York

Tuesday 20th March 2018

The Sino-Australian Pacific War of Words


7Dnews London

Tue, 20 Aug 2019 10:15 GMT

China’s ambassador to Samoa has accused detractors of Beijing’s Pacific activities of being "ignorant" and "prejudiced" on Tuesday August 20th.

At a Pacific island regional summit in Tuvalu last week, the main topic was China’s rising dominance in the Pacific islands, a region where Australia is trying to reassert its power.

Canberra, however, was criticised over its inactivity on climate change. Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama even said he favoured China’s diplomatic model over Australia’s condescension.

Not one to waste an opportunity, Ambassador Chao Xiaoliang rebuffed Western allegations that China used its foreign aid programme to get countries in its debt, calling it “Cold War” mentality.

"Rather than pointing fingers at China's good deeds, those who keep on making groundless accusations and speculations might well do more themselves to provide help to the Pacific island countries," Chao wrote in the Samoa Observer.

"Some people questioned the purpose of China's aid, even disregarded the facts and fabricated the so-called 'China debt trap', this is either due to prejudice or ignorance of China's foreign aid policy."

Critics of China say its aid, in the form of low-interest loans, seeks to put nations under Bejing’s control.

US Defence Secretary Mark Esper earlier this month described the loans as "predatory economics and debt-for-sovereignty deals", to which Chao responded: "The so-called 'China debt trap' is absolutely ridiculous."

"China's foreign aid... comes without interfering in their domestic affairs or attaching any political strings," he wrote.

Fearing that the endgame of China’s venture in the Pacific is a military base in the islands, Australia began the “Pacific Step-Up” campaign in 2018.

Not to be outdone, Beijing launched a charm offensive of its own, easy on the charm heavy on the offensive.

This month, Chinese envoys in Australia and New Zealand exalted Chinese university students who opposed Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, to Australia’s annoyanc.

In November 2018, at the Papua New Guinea Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, Chinese officials attempted to break into the office of then foreign minister to give their reaction to the summit's communique, police had to be alerted.

During the 2018 Pacific Islands forum, the head of China’s delegation withdrew because his turn to speak was after that of the island leaders who were holding the summit. Host nation Nauru asked for an apology.

Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi said last week that the real help he could get from China was of much more importance to him than Australia’s geo-strategic worries.

"Their enemies (Australia and its allies) are not our enemies," he said.