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« Why redevelop Panguna’s mine now? It can be banked | Main | Heated polemics over aid heighten China - Australia tensions »

12 January 2018


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Phil says "there is no disputing that China has built some white elephants in the Pacific".

The elephants are not white but they also feature in this report about Chinese financed development projects in Sri Lanka:

"Sri Lanka's debt situation is severe. The country is currently in $58.3 billion deep to foreign financiers, and 95.4% of all government revenue is currently going towards paying back its loans. This means that out of every hundred dollars the government brings in only $4.60 is going towards essentials like education and public services.

"The problem, both for Sri Lanka and for any would-be investor, is that many of the large projects in question are losing money fast, and may ultimately prove to be economically unsustainable -- at least without a massive amount of additional investment, more infrastructure, and a miracle or two.

"With just two flights per day, Mattala International is more than likely the most underused international airport on the planet and the Hambantota port is also running at severe under-capacity, while the brand new and fully modern highways that run through this region are mostly devoid of vehicles."

All this was the result of the Chinese pandering to the nutter that was in charge at the time.

"The reasons why Sri Lanka chose such an unlikely place for this new urban conurbation, rather than further developing an already established city, was the simple fact this was the home region of then-president Mahinda Rajapaksa."

And, lastly, here is the bit about the elephants, :-)

"They have a problem, there are lots of animals in the airport,” a local man who ran a hotel in the town center of Hambantota told me. “There are birds and elephants."

"There are elephants in the airport?" I queried, admittedly surprised.

"Yes, yes, it is the jungle,” he said. “They walk in and get in the road."

Please don't take this as an endorsement of the of the Turnbull administration's activities in the region. They suck too.

If you enjoyed Peter Frankopan's 'The Silk Roads, A new History of the World', as I certainly did, Gabriel, you will almost certainly enjoy and learn much from Ian Morris's 'Why the West Rules - For Now'.

Using a number of measures, notably geography, climate and social development, he charts and explains the rise and fall of empires and quasi-empires during the past 5000 years, including especially detailed accounts of the various Chinese dynasties and their engagement (or lack of) with the world.

Morris posits many theorems, primary among which are his views that (a) history is '...a single grand and relentless process of adaptions to the world that always generate new problems that call for further adaptations', (b) the paradox of development is that rising social development creates the very forces that disrupt and undermine it, and (c) that change is caused by lazy, greedy, frightened people (who rarely know what they're doing) looking for easier, more profitable and safer ways of doing things.

Will Self makes a point "much less social enginerring"
and likely others share the view of tumas 'engin-erring'.

Perhaps a little more actual aid - health, law and order, education - and much less social enginerring might be the answer.

Sounds like Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells got inspiration from the bigoted recruit at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue now.

The Pacific Ocean is too deep to allow such nonsense to fly right into the depth.

I would imagine that the DFAT officers staffing the China, PNG and Pacific desks must be holding their heads in their hands and wondering what they have to do to alert this government to the many complexities and difficulties that occur in their areas of interest.

The Senator's unhelpful opining about China's aid program drew a predictable response and has doubtless made its way into China's list of slights and insults to be remembered in due course.

The current government is clearly struggling to devise and articulate a foreign policy that adequately responds to China's growing willingness and ability to involve itself in Pacific affairs.

Also, America's growing obsession with its own internal affairs and apparent loss of interest in what Donald Trump has reportedly described as "s***hole" countries, has left us bereft of any obvious policy lead from our "great and powerful friend".

While we have been busy fighting wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East in support of US foreign policy, we seem to have lost focus on our nearest neighbours.

As I have previously written, we are in a historic moment of flux, when the certainties of the Cold War era and its immediate aftermath are giving way to a major realignment away from a unipolar world with the USA at its centre and towards a multi-polar world, wherein Europe, Russia, China, India and the USA are jostling for position and influence.

Australia, like PNG, is like a mouse trapped in amongst a group of dancing elephants. Somehow we need to avoid being squashed until either the dancing stops or we opt to clamber up the leg of one of the dancers and hold on for dear life.

My sense is that the dance is just beginning, so it could be a pretty tough few years for the mice.

You’re right Gabriel that Australia must understand her place in the world and our region in particular.

I’m not at all sure that Australia has shut its borders to legal migration and the total migration over the last decade has been significant and not all from Europe either.

Contrast that with PNG who has had to cope with West Papuan refugees and has no answer as to how to their return them to their own country.

Manus was always a stupid and expensive ‘thought bubble’ that should never have been either offered or agreed to.

As to embracing other cultures, I suggest that Australians are starting to appreciate many other cultures as our population is now made up of people from many nations and countries.

What isn’t happening is the normalisation of relations between our two friendly and neighbouring countries. Australia has provided many billions in aid to PNG over the years since 1975 but doesn’t seem to understand PNG and how her leaders operate.

Here the Chinese are far more adroit at playing the game notwithstanding the objectives of the aid may be different for both nations and their leaders.

Partnership? What partnership! All PNG got at independence was a longer rope to hang ourselves with economically. Successive governments have done an awesome job in shortening that rope again!

I share those views. I’ve always warned that Australia will play catch-up game with China because of its superior-inferior dependency approach to Pacific countries such as PNG. Aussie has no long term strategy; reactionary & short term only.

Having just finished reading 'The Silk Roads, a new History of the World' by Peter Frankopan (2016), I suggest the senator and all those interested in world affairs read it.

The axis of world commerce and trade is moving from Western Europe and USA to Central Asia where it used to be in ancient times.

Countries such as PNG and Australia will have to navigate their way through this tectonic shifts in the way we pursue trade and commerce with the wider world.

Australia's response has been to shut its borders and it will most likely revert to its White Australia policy of the 1960s.

PNG on the other hand is more inclined to embrace China in the trading of its extractive resources to meet the needs of the emerging economies in the One Belt, One Road initiative expounded by the new rulers of China.

Taking up Ed Brumby's point about being subtle, the old adage of ‘speaking softly and carrying a big stick’ seems to have been lost in the moribund awareness and clear lack of insight that has permeated not only the halls of Foreign Affairs but has demonstrably filtered through to the Minister's office.

It's not as if our PNG Attitude brethren have not tried to break through this intransigent brick wall. We have been banging on the DFAT front door for years.

Australia firstly does not have a ‘big stick’. It did however previously have a far more potent resource called ‘goodwill’ that has been cast aside like so much trivia by those who clearly have no idea about what they are dealing with or an interest in finding out.

Successive Australian governments of both persuasions have squandered the good relations we had with PNG, a major player in the Pacific region due to population and resources.

Our next door neighbours have been discarded like so much Christmas wrapping paper while Foreign Ministers become engrossed in the present world affairs that garners public interest and allows dramatic and ego enhancing media appearances.

Looking backward only creates more problems however and we desperately need to move forward.

Two significant issues should now be taken on board by the current Australian government and our political leaders.

Firstly, diplomacy has been recently demonstrably proven to be sadly lacking in the ‘Tweet–a-sphere’. It should be only discussed behind closed doors.

Secondly, we need to be conscious but not subservient to the Asian culture of ‘face’ that is quick to take offense if publicly rebuked.

Sure, the Australian culture is often misunderstood by those who don’t understand it. We are often open and jocular with friends but mostly closed to those we don’t either know well or who are antagonistic.

It’s almost as if a proverbial ‘bolt from the blue’ has arrived in Canberra after the past year’s festival of trivial pursuits has subsided.

With a typical ‘knee jerk’ reaction on an issue we have been raising for many years, suddenly a spotlight has been shone on a dark corner justifying what we have been saying.

Instead of listening to those who may have a modicum of experience and knowledge about the issue and have continually offered this as a resource, this apparent revelation seems to smack of desperation rather than consideration.

Everything Keith said. Plus, a tweet I posted just this morning (12/01/2018).

Speaking of 'useless', Fierravanti-Wells would've done well to do her homework & cite name of #PNG author of #Kokoda75 children's book since the 'social enterprise' demonstrated epic fail in this AUS-PNG "partnership".

You can apologise. I'll wait.…

Australia can now stop claiming to be an Anglo-Saxon country in the Pacific and subsume into the Sino-Indian policing of the Pacific.

Some experts say China will take the reigns (including military) from US by 2027 and therefore Australia has to prepare for the imminent power shift.

In PNG, Chinese and other Asian companies and individuals own one-tenth of the PNG landmass or thereabout, aided by our politicians and bureaucrats.

I don't know what the future holds for us.

I think what Senator Fierravanti-Wells was doing was attacking China to impress Donald Trump and the USA - acting as a kind of attack dog.

Julie Bishop and Malcolm Turnbull have also indulged in the same sort of rhetoric. The Australian government has obviously decided it needs to hang onto (off) the USA. I think it might be backing the wrong horse there.

A sensible government would, of course, seek to work with China so that there is some logic in how they both disperse aid.

A couple of years ago Julie Bishop radically changed our aid program to PNG, basing it almost entirely on an economic basis rather than a humanitarian basis i.e. exporting neo-capitalism to the Pacific.

I think the last couple of DFAT reports have actually mentioned trickle down economics (albeit in a disguised form).

There is no disputing that China has built some white elephants in the Pacific.

I recall driving past a beautiful university on Santo in northern Vanuatu a few years ago that was entirely deserted and never used because the Vanuatuan government didn't have the money to employ staff etc.

There is also Michael Somare's incomplete mansion in Wewak, although the sports stadium they built nearby is well used.

I think part of the problem with China's aid is that they take the advice from the host country regarding their needs.

It's a bit like the mining executives who approach traditional owners in Australia. The first thing they ask is "What do you want - we'll buy it for you?"

Then the grader or whatever turns up, without fuel or a driver or any mechanical support, and sits and rusts by the road.

DFAT tends to do the same thing in PNG. It's just a more subtle way of offering bribes really.

Well said, Keith. One wonders what Senator Fierravanti-Wells was trying to achieve with her intemperate and thoughtless remarks - other than, as you said, to parrot her senior colleagues.

Or did she really intend to offend both our Pacific neighbours and China?

Where and how PNG secures funding for particular projects really is none of our business and has not been since September 1975.

And we surely need to be smarter (and more subtle) in the way we respond to, and deal with China's inexorable rise.

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