After successfully tying up ties with the Solomon Islands, China courts Papua New Guinea as a strategic ally, as Australia and the rest race to keep it under control.
The Chines state-owned Bank of China has finally succeeded in opening a representative office in Papua New Guinea, as part of plans to not only “build a comprehensive strategic partnership with Papua New Guinea,”, but also entice them with infrastructure related to the Belt and Road Program.
The New Cold War 2.0 Battleground
The Pacific Islands have increasingly become a key battleground in the new Cold War, with Papua New Guinea and its resources and strategic location being a key battleground.
Washington has increasingly shown alarm at China’s progress, such as the military partnership with the Solomon Island, where they felt Australia had majorly dropped the ball in its own backyard.
And while the Bank of China has yet to be given a license, it has come at a time of increased bilateral relations between the two countries, with China keen to promote Yuan denominated trade, while Papua New Guinea is desperate for investment that has increasingly been lacking from a near bankrupt west.
China Courts Papua New Guinea, what is the long game?
The Chinese want a free trade deal, while Papua New Guinea in many respects want to be freed from the bondage of Australian colonial rule, which has persisted despite 48 years of independence.
In 2020 Australia was the largest import partner for Papua New Guinea, but with 98 percent of that trade being linked to gold and other precious metals, this leaves the country not just with a massive trade deficit, but also reliance from Australia that often leads to flat our meddling.
The country is not only rife with Australian NGO’s, but has had bitter experiences with companies, such as Rio Tinto, who as well as arguably causing a civil war, polluted the environment, whilst leaving little to no money, nor infrastructure.
Authorities in both PNG and Bougainville have both been extremely vocal about welcoming Chinese investment, despite western fears. Last year China was the states 3rd largest trading partner after Australia and Japan, with it expected to be at least second by 2024.
China, Papua New Guinea and the Security treaty
Last year China signed a security treaty with the Solomon Islands, a country with which they recently reopened their international border with.
This deal sent shockwaves through both Canberra and Washington, with the US going as far as “reopening” its embassy in Honiara, although as local politicians noted it was essentially too little too late.
China have also proposed a region wide deal with 10 other Pacific Island nations, which if it went through would reshape the politics of the whole region. The Pacific is one of the last bastions on earth where a majority of states recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan), rather than the Peoples Republic of China.
And Papua New Guinea very much knows its importance here, insisting that it can have security ties with east and west simultaneously, a scenario then United States wants to avoid at all costs.
If the US and Australia are to succeed here though, they will have to start actually giving Papua New Guinea more than just missionaries and NGO’s, because if they do not China most certainly will.