Melanesia group to expand Pacific influence
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PNG’s strategic position in global contest

BY BERNARD YEGIORA

IN RECENT WEEKS a collage of events in international politics has moved the spotlight directly on to PNG. The tag of being classed as a minnow in international politics is slowly fading as the global competition between two of the world’s most influential nations gain momentum.

Three different events occurred in succession that share in essence the message of competition: Hilary Clinton’s words about PNG involving China; Julia Gillard’s historical address to the US Congress which included the topic of China; and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s media session during the annual Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing.

Competition for influence is one main motive in international politics, if a country can gain influence it means it can have easieraccess to scarce resources like energy and markets for manufactured goods.

The US feels that China is pushing them out of the LNG Project because of Chinese influence in the country in the form of increased aid and investments. Both are attributes of Chinese soft power according to Joshua Kurlantzick.

The President of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, John Momis, added emphasis to this when he highlighted the lack of American investment in PNG. The presence of Chinese companies supported by their government’s ‘Going Global’ policy is evident not only in PNG but also in other parts of the world.

In PNG, Chinese companies like China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), Chinese Overseas Engineering Group Company (COVEC), China Railway Construction Company (CRCC), Business Solutions Best Material (BNBM) Public Limited Company, Guangdong Foreign Construction Company, and others manifest the presence of China in PNG.  This explains why Clinton argued that China is in PNG every day in every way.

This intricate web of interdependence and the continued growth of China is a worrying sign for the US. But in her speech Gillard assured the US that, regardless of the good trade relations Australia has with China, when push comes to shove Australia will be at America’s back.

The Prime Minister used words constructively to play with the emotions of her listeners causing some to cry patriotically and give a standing ovation when she blurted out the boot licking praise that Americans can do anything.

Her speech outlined Australia’s support of American dominance. This affirmation came after she called on America not to fear China, and called on China to be “a good global citizen”.

She shared the same view as Clinton; both leaders clearly highlight the fact that China is definitely a force to be reckoned with.  The positions they are holding as CEO and top diplomat respectively exposes both ladies to a great amount of information about China both public and secret.

This causes one to ponder about a hypothetical scenario where one ask what type of information will Wikileaks discover next time around if they happen to intercept a conversation between the US Ambassador to PNG and the Secretary of State.

Will their be calls for more American investments in PNG once the Specialize Economic Zone legislation is approve by Parliament? Will America increase its aid to PNG? Will increased pressure be on America’s deputy sheriff in the Pacific Australia to step up?

Regardless, the message from Beijing is still the same; China admits competition but wants to cooperate to ensure that its development goals are achieved. Yang Rui CCTV9’s news anchor summed up Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s address nicely when he said , “China has vowed to carefully formulate a comprehensive transformational diplomacy to live up to its new global status.”

The Foreign Minister told journalists that there was a shifting dynamic in the world order in the past year and urged developed countries to be more accommodating to the rise of emerging economies.

He went further saying: “China will play an active role in the global power shift. This transformation was a defining trend of the year 2010, there was a rapid rise of developing economies, and there was a greater balance in international power.”

 This shows that the rise of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations makes competition for influence with the US and other established powers inevitable.

Thus, to foster a favorable international environment, one key strategy of China is to pursue summit diplomacy. Through multilateral forums like BRIC, G20, APEC, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, Central Asia and Russia), China wises to address security, economic and developmental issues.

It is clear that China has a different view of the world from the West. Prime Minister Gillard’s support of American dominance of the world comes into conflict with the Chinese Foreign Minister’s call for developed nations to make way for emerging nations by accepting the fact that the world is evolving.

A combined effort is needed to address problems facing nations of the world, America can no longer act alone in policing the world. As a result, China is at the moment pushing for more representation in the World Bank.

This will set emerging powers on a collusion path with developed powers, meaning competition for resources and market in the 21st Century will increase aggressively. Countries like India and China are both very populous; their energy consumption is massive, as the use of hydrocarbon products increases in these countries because of modernization and urbanization, where will they look to for more?

Known as a small Treasure Island, PNG stand to benefit from the global competition. The current LNG project is a testimony; America knows that this resource is vital for its economy, which is why Hillary Clinton used it as a case to argue that Congress should not cut its aid programs to Pacific Island countries in fear of its competitor China.

PNG has seen some changes, more people are being employed addressing the employment problem, more spin off businesses are established to take advantage of the opportunity, a building boom in Port Moresby and others. But the question is can PNG benefit sustainably? Can the revenue gained from this project benefit the next generation?

Whatever the outcome, the mere mention of the Pacific, in particular PNG, strengthens the fact that PNG is no longer insignificant in geopolitics. As Member for Pomio Paul Tiensten mentioned, PNG could be another China in the Pacific in terms of economic growth patterns, or precisely it has the potential to become an influential player in the Pacific Region and eventually the world.

PNG could be the next Venezuela or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in a strategic way if it could use the resources it has as a bargain chip to gain more from the big competitors. However, the onus is on the current group of political leaders, they are on the verge of creating modern history if they can seize the moment.

Comments

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Barbara Short

Bernard - I'm very sorry to hear about the problems your village has faced with the revival of sorcery. I had some experience with sorcery during my time in PNG and realise that it often leads to murder which should be dealt with by the police and punished through the correct legal process.

I am also saddened to hear that some PNG people are afraid to speak out about the wrong things that they see happening for fear of retribution.

This should also be handled by the police. I think groups like Act Now may be able to help these people.

Francis - I'm sorry if you see all Australians as neo-colonialists, as we aren't!

Some Australian politicians, with little experience in dealing with PNG people, may have given you this impression.

Most Australians respect PNG as an independent nation and it's people who are getting on with running your own country as best as they can.

I think it is excellent that you have both been to China and studied its history, politics and culture. You should both be a great asset to your government when it comes to dealing with the Chinese who, I have been told, are investing heavily in PNG today.

We just wish you well.

Francis Hualupmomi

Mrs Short - Both Bernard and I lived and studied in China and know what we’re talking about. We're Chinese specialists.

I did not totally agree with your statement. Your argument was based on Mao's regime and not considering changes recently. Your information is outdated. If you had visited and lived in China this century you would appreciate China's rapid changes.

Second, your Chinese friend escaped during Mao's regime. Today, most Chinese are too hesitant to leave China because of the economic opportunities provided by their government.

Third, in China under Mao, the power was more centralised - one man makes decisions. After the reform under Deng Xiaoping, China became more decentralised. Powers once used to reed with Mao have now been transferred to different individuals and groups, e.g., in business/economic affairs, Hu Jintao does not make the decision, but a special committee.

Fourth, understanding Chinese culture is important. Without understanding it would lead to stereotype statements.

Fifth, democracy in theory is the most ideal political system; however, in practice no country has achieved full democracy. Look at the US and Australia, for instance. The most advanced democracies use democracy to advance their interests.

Frankly, the US is imperialist and Australia is neo-colonist. PNG and other Pacific Islands no longer accept this attitude. That’s why they have begun to shift focus.

If Australia continues to do this, she will lose her regional leadership. In sum, all political systems have bad sides and good sides. The important thing is how it works to bring political and economic stability.

I must remind you again that PNG is an independent country and will no longer be influenced by Australia. We are mature enough to choose our own destiny.

Bernard Yegiora

Not only politicians but also the general public. Sorcery related killings have increased in PNG. This is a clear case of human rights abuse that does not get much international coverage, or pressure from countries like Australia and the US who proclaim to be strong advocates of human rights abuse.

I saw some documentaries on Youtube, one video was about the killing of witches in my village. The manner in which these human beings were tortured and killed is very brutal. Innocent people are killed cold bloodedly and the police are not doing anything. Are we living in anarchy?

I mean the right to life is violated unlike other cases where the freedom of speech is curbed. What is more important, to live or speak? You have to live in order to speak.

This is one part of our culture that has not been affected by European colonialism and religion.

Barbara Short

Bernard - Thanks for your comments. As I'm only on dial-up and not online, I find it hard to watch the videos you mention. But I have read plenty of articles on this topic in the press. I'm sure the attitudes of the Chinese in Singapore would be still different from the attitudes of the Chinese from mainland China.

I strongly agree with you. PNG people now have to make responsible decisions for themselves.

I see that Sir Rabbie Namaliu has commented in the press on how democracy has been weakened in PNG. He needs to be listened to and prospective candidates for the next election need to start preparing their platforms which explain how they will return true democrary to PNG.

I guess my worry is more about democracy in PNG rather than the Chinese in PNG. In this morning's Sydney Morning Herald there is another article about Dr Yang and he thanks Australia for its respect for "human rights and fairness".

He explains that what he really wants and what China needs is a gradual change towards a better political system that includes respect for human rights, democracy and freedom.

I guess this is what PNG needs right now, respect by the politicians for the human rights for all of the people of PNG and fairness in dealing with them.

Barbara Short

Well said, Francis. I agree with you.

I was told that Somare and the PNG contingent who were the first foreign group to visit China after the death of Mao, were really quite frightened of the Chinese. I was teaching in PNG at the time and we were all fascinated to watch the film of their trip.

You are from the next generation and are forming your own relationships with the Chinese. As you explain, China has now changed in many ways.

My grandfather sold opium to Chinese gold miners at Carcoar back in 1861, at a time when 3,000 European miners drove the Chinese miners off the Lambing Flat area where they were panning for gold.

Now I live in a part of Sydney where many Chinese people have settled and shop at Chinese shops and have a Chinese lady as a good friend.

But these Chinese people have fled from Communism. They have come here to live in a democratic society.

There are good and bad people in every race and we must not stereotype. But we need to face up to reality, read the newspapers, find out the truth, and determine our own views on what is happening in China today.

It is a very big country and it has a great appetite for minerals at the moment.

Bernard Yegiora

"China's challenges on comprehensive transformational diplomacy."

http://english.cntv.cn/program/china24/20110307/113745.shtml

Francis Hualupmomi

We respect and accept your comments, however, PNG is an idependent nation and will not continue to be influenced by Australia.

Today, the world is becoming more interdependent providing immense opportunites for PNG to look offshore.

We are not promoting Chinese idealism (social communism) in PNG, rather looking at a positive side of how we can maximise the opportutnities China can offer.

We are strongly encouraging PNG to pursue smart diplomacy to gain a win-win situation without compromising national interest. We do not ignore Australia. Australia is in our national interest.

We're pushing for a more balancing game and playing field. It would be too naive to look at one base of opportunity. Diversifying the base is a strategic move to maximise national interest.

We must not miscalculate China as a threat rather as an important partner to drive economic modernisation.

China under Mao was more authoritarian than today. Since Deng Xioping took leadership, China has become more liberal but with Chinese characteristics. For instance, liberal economic reform with Chinese characterisitics.

One way or the other, there is some form of democracy in China. For instance, freedom of movement with less criminal activities. As a result China was able to maintain stability in the huge continent.

In syaing that Australia has to do more to ensure it maintain her leadership in the region.

Bernard Yegiora

Mrs Short, the thinking in this piece is that PNG can learn from the changes happening in international politics and find its own way forward.

With due respect to Australia, we cannot continue to let others think for us, we have to think and make responsible decisions for ourselves.

Since we have a rich Melanesian history (including culture), it's time we went back to the past and used historical experience to help us make the right decisions.

I know that we are heavily dependent on foreign aid especially loans from the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and China Export Import Bank.

Also I acknowledge the fact that corruption is a major problem in PNG, but all countries have gone through a period in history where they experienced corruption in different ways. In America, during the days of Al Capone, bootlegging and bribery were rife.

We have to be optimistic in finding a strategy to dig PNG out of the hole we are in. If it means to learn from China or free ride on the international economic system created by the West to chart our way out then by all means we have to take that step.

Bernard Yegiora

Thank you for your insightful comment, Mrs Short. Please follow this link, it is a CCTV video interview with Kishore Mabubani an intellectual in Singapore who wrote the book the "New Asian Hemisphere". It talks about the ideological battle you mentioned.

http://english.cntv.cn/program/dialogue/20110207/103384.shtml

Mrs Barbara Short

OK, PNG has lots of mineral wealth! But what saddens me is that Australia left PNG with democracy and I feel many of its present citizens, who are educated and have a part in running the country, may not see the advantages of democracy over a totalitarian regime.

I think that the present PNG government may not display all the true virtues of a democracy as it has become corrupted.

Bernard and Francis, you would do well to follow the case of Dr Yang Hengjun, which is now being recorded in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Dr Yang worked for the Chinese Foreign Ministry for many years but he has now become an Australian citizen. He is now a popular commentator on the internet, calling for democratic reform in China. He is also a "spy novelist".

He has been on a visit to China and it appears he has had a close shave with the Chinese secret police, but with a bit of luck may soon be able to return to his wife and two children in the northern Sydney suburb of Hornsby.

Evidently dozens of writers, activists and lawyers have disappeared in China lately. Several have been charged with subversion-related offences since the revolutions began against the dictatorships in the Middle East.

PNG's thinking people must realise there is a great ideological battle going on over the political direction of China.

As an Australian who helped in the education of PNG people I feel that I must remind them that democracy is a great gift that we left with you.

If you accept Chinese 'help' remember that with it comes their need for you to respect their ideology.

We may not be giving you as much help these days as we expect you to stand on your own two feet. But we still care for you and worry about your future.

Please be careful!

Francis Hualupmomi

An interesting piece. What PNG needs is a smart diplomacy to push the boundaries further and increase the the size of the name tag.

PNG is at the crucial stage where it is about to sprinkle ink in one of the pages of the great power game.

History has proven that size does not necessarily matter, with Japan becoming one of the great powers in 19C.

Although PNG is small in size compared to Australia, it in could become a regional leader which small island countries can look up to as a big brother.

Continuous political and economic stability with smart thinking is the core in the new reconfigured geopolitics of energy in the Pacific region.

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