19.12.2022 Author: Petr Konovalov

China strengthens its position in Papua New Guinea

China, whose economy is steadily growing year by year, has made great efforts over the past ten years to increase its presence in other countries. Resource-rich Papua New Guinea (PNG) is interested in additional investment from abroad that will boost the economic growth of the developing country with a population of 9 million. Today, Western countries cannot always offer the same favorable conditions for cooperation as China can. It is for this very reason that the leadership of PNG wants to diversify its foreign policy vectors by entering into close contact with China.

On November 18, 2022, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, a meeting was held between Papua New Guinean Prime Minister James Marape and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

During this meeting, Xi Jinping said that China and PNG were close partners and good friends, and their relationship was a clear demonstration of how dialogue between developing countries should be shaped. China plans to build a comprehensive strategic partnership with PNG. According to the Chinese leader, the interaction between the two countries will serve as a positive example for other Pacific island states, which, seeing the increase in the prosperity of PNG as a result of cooperation with China, will also express a desire to expand cooperation with Beijing.

Xi Jinping stressed that China planned to implement the Belt and Road Initiative together with PNG, as well as improve cooperation in the fields of forestry, fisheries and agriculture. According to the Chinese leader, he attaches great importance to the creation of special economic zones, adding that China is also ready to provide PNG with all possible assistance in preventing natural disasters that often occur in countries of the Pacific. Xi Jinping did not forget to mention that he had previously instructed the Chinese authorities to facilitate investment in PNG. The Chinese President is strongly convinced that a new milestone in the development of mutually beneficial relations can only be achieved through the growth of foreign trade turnover.

In the words of Xi Jinping, the Chinese leadership plans to pay special attention to key issues related to the comprehensive development of PNG. First and foremost, China aims to help reduce poverty in the island nation and combat climate change.

The Chinese leader summed up his speech by assuring that China would continue to develop partnerships with PNG and other Pacific countries, based on the principles of equality and good neighborliness.

Xi Jinping also added that China would continue to increase its presence throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape acknowledged the annual increase in Chinese investment in the country and expressed hope that Chinese companies would turn their attention to the developing Pacific state more often. James Marape also gave a high evaluation of the successfully implemented joint educational projects with China, which, according to him, are in great demand in PNG.

James Marape welcomed the re-election of Xi Jinping as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China in October 2022 and called him a leader whose personality will go down in history books. The Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea recalled that over the past ten years, China had made significant progress in both domestic and foreign policy.

James Marape concluded his speech with the words that his country “stands for the policy of a united China and does not recognize the independence of Taiwan.” He also expressed his support for the protection of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In recent years, China and PNG have been expanding and strengthening bilateral dialogue. In 2014, representatives of the two countries established a strategic partnership based on the principles of joint development and mutual respect. In 2016, an intergovernmental agreement was signed on cooperation in the industrial capacity sphere. In the same year, Papua New Guinea’s entry into the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was approved. This decision was one of the preliminary stages for the participation of PNG in the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project, which it joined in 2018.

While in the early 2000s, the volumes of export-import operations between China and PNG were insignificant, now China is the second most important foreign trading partner of PNG after Australia. The developing Pacific island nation exports agricultural products, timber and natural resources to China, and imports machine tools, machinery and oil products from China. According to experts, if the current trends continue, then in a few years China will claim first place in the list of Papua New Guinea’s foreign economic partners.

China is successfully implementing educational projects in PNG. Cooperation between the two countries in the humanitarian sphere has great prospects and is developing quite rapidly. The Chinese government annually provides scholarships to study at Chinese universities to more than 500 students from PNG. Chinese authorities are convinced that people who have been educated in China will, in the long run, occupy some of the leadership positions in their native countries and will be loyal to the country that helped them move to a new level of development.

In 2018, Chinese authorities granted PNG access to the technology of growing a special type of grass known as Juncao, first cultivated in China, which is used as fodder for livestock, growing edible mushrooms and other crops, as well as to slow down desertification of soils. This type of grass has taken root in more than 100 countries and has accelerated the decline in poverty around the world. Thanks to Juncao technology, agricultural production becomes cheaper and at the same time increases in volume, making it possible to feed a large number of people relatively inexpensively.

There is not a single objective reason that could decelerate the enhancement of dialogue between China and PNG. As noted above, PNG is positive about foreign investment, and China needs new allies around the world.

Perhaps Australia and the US will try to sway the Papuan leadership to their side if they manage to offer more lucrative conditions for cooperation. However, these plans are unlikely to come to pass: PNG has previously been in the sphere of influence of Western countries since gaining independence from Australia in 1975. And if in recent years PNG has been gradually readjusting its foreign policy in favor of China, this means that Washington and its allies are not strong enough to keep the developing Pacific island nation in their sphere of influence.

Petr Konovalov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.