Australian International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells in latest interview has said China is lending funds to Pacific nations on unfavourable terms and constructing “useless buildings” and “roads to nowhere” in the region.
Vanuatu is mentioned in this interview for The Australian as one of the Pacific countries constructing “useless buildings” with China’s aid. In particular, the Vanuatu Convention Centre, built with a $US28.5m grant from the Chinese government, is mentioned, as an example of this kind of infrastructure, that Vanuatu Government “is struggling to maintain and pay for electricity to the site”.
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said China’s influence was “clearly growing” and their infrastructure-led development program in the Pacific was not as effective as it could be in comparison to Australia’s aid.
“You’ve got the Pacific full of these useless buildings which nobody maintains, which are basically white elephants. I’ve gone to islands and you’ll be driving along on some back road and all of a sudden you see this Chinese road crew building a road to nowhere and you think ‘hmm, what’s all that about’,” she said.
Fierravanti-Well also told the Pacific Beat she was concerned that some Pacific countries were taking on debts they could not afford to repay.
“We just don’t want to build a road that doesn’t go anywhere,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells said.
“We want to ensure that the infrastructure that you do build is actually productive and is actually going to give some economic benefit or some sort of health benefit.”
The Lowy Institute said China had contributed more than $2.3 billion in aid to the Pacific since 2006.
Among other countries in the region, besides Vanuatu, Fiji has been drawing closer to China in recent years, and Papua New Guinea has signed a series of infrastructure deals as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.
Meanwhile, the Australian Federal Labor has accused the government of “clumsiness” in managing their relations with China after Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’s interview.