Chinese diplomat explains Beijing's approach in the Pacific
China's Ambassador to New Zealand, Cook Islands and Niue, Wang Lutong, defends his country's aid approach in the region and discusses what distinguishes it from the aid programmes of Australia and New Zealand.
China's Ambassador to New Zealand, Cook Islands and Niue says his country's aid programme in the region is conducted in a spirit of partnership between two players on equal footing.
Wang Lutong spoke to Johnny Blades who asked him what distinguishes China's aid in the region from that of countries like Australia and New Zealand.
WANG LUTONG: CHina's economic assistance to this region takes the form of grants, loans without interest and concessional loans, with grants taking the most percentage, and our foreign assistance also takes other forms as projects and materials. For example, last November when the Chinese president and the Cook Islands prime minister met, they signed a memorandum on agriculture machineries and materials. I think we also attach high importance to the debt sustainability of the benefit countries. We respect the wishes and the needs of the benefit countries, placing the money in places and areas where the economic assistance is much needed. And of course, before that, there will be very strict and professional feasibility studies and evaluations.
JOHNNY BLADES: Some of these island countries have trouble paying the debt back, don't they. Is it something that China considers?
WL: Yes, because we have very strict and professional economic and technological feasibility studies and evaluations before the project is carried out. And if there is any possibility of difficulty for the benefit countries paying the debt, that sort of issue could be resolved through bilateral channels.
JB: You mean, you're open to discussion about...
WL: We can discuss any possibilities but what I want to say is that China's foreign economic assistance to this region is not one-way. It is not like giving away the money. I would rather regard it as a bridge between China and the South Pacific nations, with the aim of enhancing the bilateral trade, so this kind of win-win co-operation.
JB: In general, do the Pacific Island countries, governments approach China for the aid or trade and economic investments, or does China, or Chinese companies, approach the islands?
WL: We provide assistance at the request of the benefit countries, and governments sit together and discuss it. There will be feasibility studies and after that we will sign a very binding document on that.
JB: Is there a position where the Chinese government will be looking to use local contractors in these countries more often than say a Chinese company, to carry out a project?
WL: Take the Cook Islands project. There were only about 20 Chinese workers on the island. We employ, I think, about 20 local employees. So we will use the local designs and we will employ the local employees.
Wang Lutong says while China's assistance in the region is centres on infrastructure, while New Zealand and Australia's is focussed on health and education, he believes the two approaches can be complementary.
He cites the recent case of the tripartite aid project involving China and New Zealand in the Cook Islands as an example of how external partners can work together successfully.
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