37 world leaders gather in Beijing this week for a Belt and Road Summit. Addressing concerns about China’s goals, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters last week that the huge infrastructure project is not a “geopolitical tool.” But China’s economic clout inevitably builds political influence.
Prime Minister Peter O’Neill of Papua New Guinea will represent the Pacific at the Belt and Road summit – just a week after he presided over the groundbreaking ceremony for a 285 million dollar Chinatown in the capital Port Moresby. About 20,000 Chinese nationals now live and work in PNG, and the new project will feature apartments, shops, restaurants and a hotel.
Under Belt and Road, state-owned enterprises are already busy in PNG, but the Prime Minister said this is by far China’s largest private investment. The Governor of Port Moresby province, Powes Parkop, scoffed at suggestions of undue Chinese influence.
“That’s mainly a concern of Australia and the U.S.,” he told Australia’s ABC, and instead expressed concern about Canberra and Washington’s plans to develop a naval base on Manus, in PNG’s Admiralty Islands.
As development of that base slowly gets underway, the ABC reports that two high tech Chinese research vessels have been mapping the waters north of Manus. Such surveys are entirely lawful, but Australian and American military officials said that the data gathered by these civilian ships would be invaluable for military operations.
And in Vanuatu this week, RNZ Pacific reports that the Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company won the contract to build a new Ministry of Finance in Port Vila. The same company’s other projects in Vanuatu include extensive repairs of Port Vila’s International Airport.