Envy in Papua New Guinea as Chinese money pours in

PORT MORESBY: In the capital of Papua New Guinea, the slums without electricity and water that surround modern high-rise buildings will soon be joined by a new project in the coastal city – a brilliant Chinatown Complex.
Beijing is pouring huge sums into Papua New Guinea, a resource-rich jewel in the crown of the Pacific but one of the poorest countries in the world, due to its vast potential and its position near crucial sea routes. .
A slew of Chinese projects are popping up in Port Moresby, including the $414 million complex – Beijing’s biggest investment in Papua New Guinea – which will include a cinema, hotel, apartments and restaurants.
But residents are aggrieved to see no obvious benefit from Beijing’s big spending, complaining that thousands of workers are being flown in and paid to work on big projects, only to send the money home.
“Why are we left out? What the Chinese can do, our people can do,” said former lawmaker Gabia Gagarimabu, 62.
“They’re coming and we’re sitting there watching.”
Unfinished or unused Chinese projects are also raising fears about the benefits of Beijing’s aid and fueling suspicions of deepening corruption in the country.
Cranes stand idle at the sprawling Chinatown site after years of Covid-19 delays.
A Chinese-built skyscraper, the country’s tallest building at 23 stories, dominates the city’s skyline but remains empty after authorities found multiple flaws.
The walls of a convention center built by China for the APEC summit are covered in graffiti and only guards and gardeners remain at the site. They say the electricity has been off since 2018.
“Projects become phantom projects. Where is the money? Where is the development?” Gagarimabu asked.
Beijing’s investment in the South Pacific’s most populous nation is for its “strategic location, lots of oil and gas, lots of minerals, lots of opportunities”, a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
China is now the country’s second largest trading partner behind Australia’s former colonial ruler, with Beijing investing heavily in construction but also in energy, resources, retail and telecommunications.
A new six-lane highway now crosses the capital.
The entrance to a school for 3,000 students is adorned with Mandarin script while bus stops with Chinese signs built for the 2018 APEC summit dot the city center.
A national courthouse complex being built is named after a public construction company headquartered in Beijing.
Chinese state-run media said the investments were aimed at improving living standards.
The investment has “no political strings attached”, Beijing’s Global Times newspaper said in an editorial last year.
Chinese migrants first settled in the Pacific islands in the 19th century, but a new influx – some illegal – since the 1980s had already made it the center of political unrest.
The latest wave of Belt and Road workers has only heightened communal tensions, sparking riots and looting against Chinese businesses.
Some Chinese workers refused to talk about the situation while others were more forthcoming.
“They (Chinese) are discriminated against locally. I kinda feel it,” said Chen Jing, 46, a phone repair stall owner.
Despite rumblings of discontent, the PNG government forged ahead and in 2018 became the first Pacific nation to sign a memorandum of understanding for China’s trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative, a decisive geopolitical project for President Xi Jinping.
The following year, large Chinese companies operating in PNG – mostly state-owned – grew from 21 to 39, according to Peter Connolly, who studies Chinese projects in the Pacific at the Australian National University.
At a Chinese mini-market covered in metal bars to protect workers from armed robbery, manager Vincent He said he supports bringing more workers to PNG.
“There are jobs they just can’t do. They can’t help us,” the businessman from China’s Fujian province said, switching from English to Mandarin so locals can’t understand it.
“I don’t know why they talk like that. We must have our own Chinese doing it here.”
But growing Chinese business activity is fueling resentment as locals “fear for their economic and job security,” said Sinclair Dinnen, an associate professor at the Australian National University.
They say relatively well-off Chinese migrants are not mingling with society, sending their earnings home and pumping them back into a country where around 40% live below the subsistence level.
“The opportunity is not given to us. If we continue this, we will soon have no place to work,” said Heather Yaninen, 60, who runs a cosmetics stand.
“They will come in and take everything.”


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