In Papua New Guinea, Chinese money is pouring in and sparking frustration
In the capital of Papua New Guinea, the slums without water or electricity that surround modern skyscrapers will soon be next to one of the coastal city’s biggest real estate projects: a gleaming Chinatown.
Beijing is investing huge sums in Papua New Guinea – a resource-rich Pacific crown jewel but one of the world’s poorest countries – because of its vast potential and proximity to crucial shipping routes.
Many Chinese projects are springing up in Port Moresby, such as a $414 million complex – Beijing’s biggest investment in the country – which will include a cinema, hotel, apartments and restaurants.
But locals are upset that they are not getting any real benefit from Beijing’s big spending, complaining that thousands of Chinese are flown in and paid to work on big projects, but send the money back to their home countries. ‘origin.
“Why are we left out? What the Chinese can do, our people can do,” says former MP Gabia Gagarimabu, 62.
“They come and we stand there watching,” he laments.
Unfinished or unused Chinese buildings are also raising fears about the benefits of Beijing’s aid and fueling suspicions of deepening corruption in the country.
Cranes stand still at the sprawling Chinatown site after years of delays due to Covid-19.
A Chinese-built skyscraper, the tallest in the country at 23 stories, dominates the city’s skyline but remains empty after authorities found multiple flaws in it.
“The projects become phantom projects. Where is the money? Where is the development?” asks Mr. Gagarimabu.
– “Discrimination” –
If Beijing spends so much in the most populous country in the South Pacific, it is because of its “strategic location, abundance of oil and gas, minerals and many opportunities”, observed a Western diplomat under the covered with anonymity.
China is now the country’s second largest trading partner, behind Australia, a former colonial power, and Beijing is 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 of 3,000 students is adorned with Mandarin writing, while bus stops with Chinese signage, built for the 2018 APEC summit, dot the city center.
China’s investments carry “no political constraints” and are aimed at improving local living standards, the state-run Global Times newspaper wrote in an editorial in 2022.
Chinese migrants first settled in the Pacific islands in the 19th century, but a new influx – sometimes illegal – since the 1980s has already placed them at the center of political unrest.
The latest wave of “Belt Roads” workers has only heightened communal tensions, sparking riots and looting against Chinese businesses.
Some Chinese workers refuse to talk about the situation, while others are more open.
“They (the Chinese) are discriminated against at the local level. I feel it a little,” said Chen Jing, 46, owner of a phone repair shop.
– “Take everything” –
Despite a wave of discontent, Papua New Guinea forged ahead and in 2018 became the first Pacific country to sign a memorandum of understanding under China’s “New Roads for silk,” worth $1 trillion, a key geopolitical project of President Xi Jinping.
The following year, the main Chinese companies operating in the country – mostly state-owned – grew from 21 to 39, according to Peter Connolly, who studies Chinese projects in the Pacific at the Australian National University.
In a Chinese convenience store covered with metal bars to protect employees from robberies, the manager of the premises, Vincent He, expresses his support for the arrival of more workers in Papua New Guinea.
“There are things they just can’t do. They can’t help us run these stores,” says the businessman from China’s Fujian province, switching from English to Mandarin so as not to be understood by the natives.
But China’s growing trade activity is fueling resentment as locals “fear for their economic security and jobs”, said Sinclair Dinnen, an associate professor at the Australian National University.
They say China’s relatively well-off migrants are not mingling with society, sending their earnings home and reinvesting them in a country where nearly 40% of people live below the poverty line.
“We are not given opportunities. If we continue like this, we will soon have no place to work,” fears Heather Yaninen, 60, who runs a cosmetics shop. “They will come and take everything.”