Multilateral cooperation involving China best choice for Pacific island nations

By Hu Weijia Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/18 21:38:39

The US and several Western powers including Australia on Sunday announced plans to build a $1.7 billion electricity grid in Papua New Guinea, Bloomberg reported, a move viewed by some analysts as an effort to counter China's growing influence in the region.

Some Australians have been watching China's Pacific influence warily, evaluating infrastructure investments from the perspective of geopolitics.

Although their anxieties may be a catalyst for Western investment, the sums of money offered by the US and Australia to Pacific island countries are expected to be dwarfed by China's infrastructure lending plan.

Australia's GDP is about just 10 percent of China's. Australia is bound to lose if it competes with China's economic engagement in Pacific island countries. China is in the midst of a boom in outbound infrastructure investment. No matter what measures are taken by Australia, China's cooperation with Pacific island countries will continue to expand and reach a higher level.

Last month, Australia announced that it would work with Papua New Guinea to develop the island's Lombrum Naval Base. In contrast, China has not established any military base in the island country. China's economic cooperation with Papua New Guinea does not target any third party, including Australia.

What is worth worrying about is Washington. US Vice President Mike Pence was quoted by the BBC as saying Saturday that the US "will partner with Papua New Guinea and Australia on their joint initiative at Lombrum Naval Base." Australia cannot compete with China, so the country has to rely more and more on the US. Canberra's unnecessary concerns about Chinese investment have already offered a chance for the US military to increase its presence in Pacific island countries.

The US may want to make China's investment a springboard to enhance military cooperation with Pacific island countries. Why does Canberra prefer the Pentagon to Chinese investors, who can bring tangible benefits to not only Pacific island countries but also Australia? Hopefully, Australia won't go too far in the wrong direction.

China has been offering billions of dollars in infrastructure loans to Pacific island countries, a region that is vital to international shipping but lacks many necessary infrastructure projects. China and Australia can share common ground while strengthening economic cooperation with Pacific island countries to improve infrastructure along their trade routes.

It is good to see Australia and the US investing in infrastructure projects in Papua New Guinea, but development programs should be vigilant to mounting strategic confrontation among big powers. The best choice is to promote multilateral cooperation among China, Australia and Pacific island countries.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.


blog comments powered by Disqus