As Chinese president Xi Jinping prepares to meet in Port Moresby with eight Pacific island leaders, Beijing has warned no country should try to obstruct its “friendship and cooperation” with Pacific nations that have already received US$3 billion in Chinese investment.
A battle of diplomacy dollars is rapidly escalating in the Pacific, with Australia, Japan, the US and China all expected to pledge to lift infrastructure and aid funding to the impoverished region in the next week as world leaders gather in Papua New Guinea for the APEC summit.
Xi will first meet with the eight Pacific island leaders who recognise Beijing diplomatically, and not Taiwan, before the weekend APEC meeting. It is the first visit by a Chinese head of state to Papua New Guinea, which was once an Australian colony.
“No country should try to obstruct the friendship and cooperation… China has no intention to touch the cheese of any country, instead China is committed to make the pie of cooperation larger,” said Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs Zheng Zeguang, when asked about the expansion of Australian aid in the Pacific.
One hundred Chinese projects had been completed in the Pacific including power stations, telecommunications, hospitals, schools, office buildings and convention centres, said Zheng. China had helped train over 6000 professionals, brought 1200 students to China, and climate change was an “important area of cooperation”, he said.
Australia is the dominant aid provider for Pacific nations, but had historically not focused on infrastructure. Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled a $2 billion infrastructure fund for Pacific telecommunications, energy, transport and water projects.
Morrison described the Pacific island nations as “family” and “our patch”.
“The Pacific island region is not the sphere of influence of any country,” said Zheng on Tuesday, and called for “the relevant sides” to “abandon Cold War mentality”.
He also used the term “family”, and said China wanted to cooperate with third-parties in the Pacific island region.
Trilateral development cooperation between China and Australia in the Pacific was discussed by foreign affairs minister Marise Payne and her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at a meeting in Beijng last Thursday.
It is understood such cooperation projects are more likely to centre on education and health programs, rather than more sensitive telecommunications infrastructure.
Morrison has told international media including CNBC and Bloomberg this week that Australia would expand what it does in the Pacific in partnership with “many other countries – whether its the US or whether its China or other countries”.
Payne told the Senate on Tuesday that she had proposed technical exchanges between the department of foreign affairs and trade and China’s new oversight body for its sprawling overseas aid program.
By Kirsty Needham