This is an extract from a discussion paper written by the ANU’s Prof Hank Nelson last year, which did not receive the attention it deserved in the Australia. Email me if you would like to read the complete essay.
There is almost no similarity to, or continuity with, the Chinese in Papua New Guinea now and the Chinese of the 1930s who, even if born in New Guinea, held a certificate of registration of an alien on which the bearer was identified by his thumbprint. The Chinese were then a minority, largely unprotected by a home government, subject to petty discrimination, deliberately avoiding party politics and only entering the public arena to make a general show of being loyal citizens in such events as the Rabaul Empire Day parade.
The Chinese in Papua New Guinea now outnumber Australians by two to one; some are backed by a powerful government in China which is extending its global political and economic reach, and some have connections to other governments in Southeast Asia; they are engaged in billion dollar resource projects; they have joined vigorously in public debate, hiring high competence in public relations, and one of the major resource firms owns a national daily newspaper which is partisan when the interests of any activities of the parent company are an issue; and they have become involved in public decision-making from the highest to the lowest levels….
Outside commentators have to be careful not to accuse the Chinese of illegal or undesirable actions as though they are the only national group involved. The Chinese stand out because they are new, numerous and involved in the largest and most public ventures, not because they are the most venal. Commentators also have to accept the obvious: the Chinese have every right to pursue national, company and personal goals in Papua New Guinea. Scrutiny of legality, morality and mutual benefit to Papua New Guineans must be applied equally to all foreigners….
Australia continues to speak – and issue reports – as though it is not just the dominant player in the region but virtually the only big player, that this is where the rest of the world expects Australia to have expertise, and where Australia provides most aid, guides development and intervenes at times of natural and man-made disasters.
When Papua New Guineans suggest that they do not want to be beholden to Australians and that there are alternatives, this is scarcely taken seriously in Australia. It should be, and in future it will have to be. Failure to recognize growing Chinese engagement in Papua New Guinea was apparent in recent statements by the Australian government and opposition.
Hank Nelson is an Emeritus Professor and Visiting Fellow of the Division of Pacific and Asian History and Chair of State, Society and Governance in Melanesia at the Australian National University.
Source: Extract from Conclusion to ‘The Chinese in Papua New Guinea’ by Hank Nelson, Discussion Paper 2007/3, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, ANU