PMC REPORTER | Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk
AUCKLAND - Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Port Moresby on Thursday night to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit and is poised to steal a march on rival world leaders.
With the US and Russian Presidents skipping the event, President Xi is in a strategic position to strengthen ties with both the host nation and other participants.
The National newspaper reports that President Xi said Papua New Guinea was “truly a land of promise,” endowed with abundant natural resources.
“In recent years, thanks to the leadership of prime minister Peter O’Neill, the great work of the government, and the industrious and enterprising people of the country, PNG has thrived in national development, and its society has taken on a new look,” said President Xi.
This is the first state visit of President Xi where he reiterated his goal to fortify “mutual trust” and to take bilateral ties to next level.
“I look forward to working with your leaders to cement mutual trust, expand practical cooperation, and increase people-to-people exchanges in order to take our bilateral ties to a new level,” he said.
“Only one of China’s many gifts to PNG.”
President Xi said the rapid growth of the China-PNG relations was “an epitome of China’s overall relations with Pacific Islands countries”.
“The Chinese often say: ‘Distance cannot separate true friends who remain close even when thousands of miles apart.’ The vast Pacific Ocean is indeed a bond between China and Pacific Islands countries,” he said.
President Xi said China would stand firm with Pacific Islands countries and all other developing countries.
The Post-Courier reported that early this year president Xi met with prime minister O’Neill in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing as part of a trip that saw the Pacific nation signing on to the “One Belt One Road” initiative.
This was an initiative seen by the US as a threat, and it had injected US$113 million in Asian investment.
Meanwhile, The Diplomat website reports that the first visit to PNG by a Chinese head of state has already turned out to be fortuitous for Beijing.
In January, Australia’s then Minister for International Development, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, made headlines when she accused China of constructing – and funding — “useless buildings” and roads to “nowhere” in Pacific Island countries.
That comment sparked forceful pushback both from China and from Pacific Island leaders, who found the implications “insulting” (in the words of Samoa’s prime minister).
This visit gives Xi a prime chance to hit back at accusations that China is pursuing “debt trap diplomacy”. In an article for the Post Courier, published just ahead of his arrival, Xi highlighted China’s commitment to treating Pacific nations with “mutual respect.”
“China believes that all countries are equal, regardless of their size,” Xi declared, repeating a common refrain in Chinese diplomacy. But in an oblique nod to the criticisms, Xi also wrote that China and the Pacific Islands “need to bring our strategic trust to a higher level.”
As part of that, Xi pledged that “China will enhance solidarity and cooperation with Pacific island countries, support their development, and help narrow down the development gap between the North and the South.”
On the sidelines of the APEC summit, Xi has met with leaders from PNG, the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu. It’s no coincidence that all eight countries have either already joined or are strongly considering joining the Belt and Road Initiative.
There’s another motivation for the lavish Belt and Road diplomacy going on this week – China will be hoping to prove to all the Pacific Island states the value of cooperating with Beijing, rather than Taipei.