KUALA LUMPUR,. Papua New Guinea should emulate Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad if it wants to avoid effectively becoming a “colony” of China as the economic superpower pours in investments and assistance, an opposition leader there warned.
Gary Juffa, governor of Papua New Guinea’s Oro province, noted that Dr Mahathir had scraped China-linked projects worth hundreds of billions of ringgit by citing affordability issues.
“We need to look at what Mahathir is doing, he has been very concerned about the future and sovereignty of Malaysia, he doesn’t want the country to be a colony of China. That is what we need to do here,” Juffa was quoted as telling Hong Kong daily South China Morning Post (SCMP).
“We can have Chinese influence but we need them to be based on our terms, we need to inform them about our laws, the fact that they are in our country and there has to be an element of respect,” he added.
Dr Mahathir was in Papua New Guinea last week to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit hosted by the latter.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Papua New Guinea’s biggest aid donors are currently China and Australia.
However, Juffa said there was a need for caution and transparency when it comes to assistance and investment from other countries including China, and argued that Papua New Guinea should own its own economy in order to maintain its sovereignty.
“If we do not do that, we will just become a colony of China,” the leader of the People’s Movement for Change political party told SCMP.
“I want to ensure that my people own Papua New Guinea’s economy.
“But now I don’t think we are owning [our] economy. If you want to be truly independent you must own the economy,” he added.
While noting that China has great power and wealth, Juffa said Papua New Guinea can choose to develop and modernise at its own pace to maintain its position as an independent nation.
Papua New Guinea agreed in June to join China’s multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) where infrastructure projects are built to boost trade links, but SCMP noted the example of Sri Lanka giving up a port to China on a 99-year lease after it struggled with debts for the port’s construction to illustrate the risks of poorer nations unable to cope with debt burdens.
Citing data from China Global Investment Tracker, SCMP said China’s investment in Papua New Guinea, especially for projects such as the construction of roads and ports, has gone up from US$860 million in 2016 to US$2.46 billion in 2017.
SCMP said Australia is expected to give around A$572 million in development aid to Papua New Guinea for the 2018-2019 period.
In a sign of nations seeking to counter China’s influence in the strategic Pacific region where Papua New Guinea is located, the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand yesterday said they will jointly fund a US$1.7 billion (RM7.12 billion) plan to increase electricity supply from 13 per cent of PNG’s eight million-strong population now to 70 per cent by 2030.
About 40 per cent of PNG’s population live on less than US$1.25 a day, while four-fifths of the population reportedly do not live in urban areas.