The Cook Islands Opposition is concerned at what has been described as China’s “irregular and improper presence” in the Cook Islands during the election period.
The Democratic Party-led Opposition met with the ambassador for the People’s Republic of China to the Cook Islands, Wu Xi, where they discussed issues relating to the timing of the official handover of the $14 million Apii Nikao project, funded by the Chinese government, Cook Islands News reports.
With about a month left before the June 14 polls, the Opposition was concerned at the manner in which the handover ceremony was planned and conducted, said deputy leader James Beer.
Beer said he raised issues with Wu regarding the Cook Islands’ democratic processes, and in particular the coming election and the 2014 one.
“We respectfully submitted that we had concerns relating to the 2014 general elections and again in this current election, about what we could only describe as the irregular and improper presence of a sovereign nation.
“Our elections, although small by international standards, are as important to us as elections in other (much bigger) nations are to them.”
Beer said he and other Opposition representatives told Wu that in 2014, on the eve of a general election, the Chinese government provided the CIP government with the announcement of a machinery donation worth more than $7 million.
“The CIP (Cook Islands Party) government took advantage of this and promoted (the announcement) leading up to those elections.”
The Chinese government had once again had a presence in the Cook Islands just before an election, by officially opening the Nikao School project, Beer said.
He said the opposition had told Wu the Nikao School opening and handover ceremony could have been done after the elections had been held, and when the school was fully complete.
“The opposition raised as an example with the ambassador, that in 2014 the New Zealand High Commissioner’s office sought the opinion of the Opposition Democratic Party as to whether an announcement on the $14 million WATSAN project could be made prior to the election. The election date had been announced and was to be held within a short time,” Beer said.
“Such an announcement, we considered, could have had an adverse effect on the outcome of the election result, or distort the democratic process. The New Zealand High Commissioner respected our position and delayed the announcement until after the elections.”
Beer said Wu had insisted her visit the Cook Islands was “purely coincidental”.
Meanwhile in its 2018 election manifesto, the Democratic Party says that if the party forms the next government, they will stop borrowing from China until a full investigation into foreign debt and its transparency has been carried out.
“Our position is that we are going to re-look at all loans, not just those from China.
“One of the key issues here is (the Cook Islands’) total indebtedness and our ability to repay a loan many years into the future,” Beer said.