The Trojan Horse in the Pacific?
Kevin J. Barr
|From the film "Troy"|
Today analysts often express their suspicions about the motivations of those who provide aid or loans. Are they sincerely wanting to help us in an unselfish way or do they have ulterior motives? If so, what do they want in return? Do they want to help us but also help themselves at the same time? Sir Michael Somare once said that Australian aid to Papua New Guinea was “Boomerang aid” because, while it certainly assisted PNG, it also returned benefits to Australia. Consultants came from Australia or materials were brought in from Australian companies.
Certainly suspicions are rife that China wants to boost its strategic and diplomatic influence in the Pacific region, to make new friends, and expand its trade in goods and services. China is a growing world power with a large population and a huge demand for resources. Our timber and especially our mining and fishing resources would surely be an attraction and our position as the hub of the Pacific is of critical importance. The USA and Australia seem to be concerned at China’s growing influence in the Pacific region and seek to counteract it.
Years ago Julius Nyerere, the President of Tanzania. had to face a similar dilemma – stay with Britain and the West or also turn to China and the East in his efforts to see his country develop. In the early years, China saw a great opportunity to get its way in Tanzania and offered all types of assistance. At a banquet President Chou En Lai made great promises of assistance. Nyerere stood up and told him in a friendly but firm manner that, although he welcomed Chinese help, Tanzania was not for sale. On that understanding a more fruitful relationship of assistance developed which was balanced by assistance from other nations as well. Nyerere was willing to receive help from any nation, provided that the aid was not part of an effort to intervene in the domestic affairs of Tanzania or gain special concessions. Perhaps we in Fiji and the Pacific could learn something from the stance taken by Nyerere.
Years ago, Rev. Paula Niukula then Director of the Fiji Council of Churches Research Group sounded a strong note of warning when Sir James Ah Koy (then a government Minister) proposed to open wide our doors to Chinese investors from mainland China. Paula was no racist but he asked government to seriously consider the consequences of such a move. At the time there were enough case studies to show that, along with business developments, there often came a lot of gambling, prostitution, drugs and other less desirable activities. Clever criminal elements often came together with Chinese investors. Of course Paula’s warnings were dismissed as irrelevant and damaging to business development. But many of his warnings have, in fact proved to be true.
Currently we have received some large loans on low interest from China (and some other countries) for infrastructure (roads, housing etc). We have also opened our doors very wide to Chinese investors. We hear of plans for Hotels, a cement factory, a hardware company and other developments. We see tracts of mangroves laid waste for Chine developments despite warnings that we should protect our tiri land and take rising sea levels seriously. We question whether the many workers brought in from China as well as local workers employed by Chinese companies adhere to our labour legislation regulations. And there are rumours that, in some parts of the Pacific, convict labour is brought in from Chinese prisons. We see Chinese prostitutes on our streets and occasionally hear of fights arising at illegal gambling locations. Some years ago a Chinese company hit the headlines for producing and exporting drugs.
Chinese companies enter the country with low interest loans from the Chinese Exim Bank to build infrastructure or housing developments. While terms of interest may be low, these companies usually bring a high percentage of their labour and materials from China thus contributing to China’s economy but not to ours. Moreover these Chinese companies and other Chinese investors are undermining local companies and local employment. They are impacting particularly on the local building, mining, quarrying and timber companies and often getting unfair advantages in terms of quick approvals and non application of labour and environmental requirements. Acres of mangroves have been laid waste to facilitate Chinese developments and many people are concerned about what this devastation may hold for the future. A saying is becoming common: “Whatever the Chinese want, the Chinese get”. Of course Chinese diplomatic influence in Fiji and the Pacific is growing stronger every year and the resources of the Pacific – especially in fishing, timber and mining – are particularly appealing for Chinese economic interests.
It is very easy for our authorities to want to achieve everything at once and embrace all those willing to supports our interests - to be all too ready to accept loans and attract business interests. But we need always to be wary that there may be a price to pay – if not now then in the future. And are we fully aware of what that price might be? We are rather naive if we think we can gain all the advantages and not have to face a pay-off in the future.
Do we have a new version of the Trojan horse emerging in our Pacific societies? The gift looks attractive but what is lurking within? Will our acceptance of the gift ultimately lead to our downfall? Should we not heed the old warning and beware of Chinese bearing gifts?