Attack on Chinese aid clumsy: Labor

January 10, 2018

A government minister has raised concerns about China's assistance to tiny Pacific Island nations.

The minister in charge of Australia's aid program has hit out at China's assistance to tiny Pacific island nations for building "white elephants" and "roads to nowhere."

International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells also has concerns about the sustainability of China's loan arrangements with Pacific islands nations.

"Burdensome debt can divert scarce public resources from more important needs such as health and education," Senator Fierravanti-Wells told ABC Radio.

In 2009 Tonga's debt to China was $US100.4 million ($A132.9 million), which was equivalent to one-third of its national income.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells attacked "white elephant buildings" and "roads to nowhere" that have been built with Chinese money.

"We don't want buildings in the Pacific that do not have some productive outcome that doesn't provide some sort of economic benefit," she said.

"We just don't want to build something for the heck of building it."

The Lowy Insitute has estimated China has poured $2.3 billion in aid to the South Pacific since 2006.

The Institute's Pacific Islands program director Jonathan Pryke said the senator had made a legitimate point but the value of projects had to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

"It's a bit dangerous to say they're all bad or they're all good. It's much more complicated than that," he told AAP.

"I'm not sure how productive it would be for our ongoing relationship with China in the Pacific to be so negative and black and white."

There was scope for China and Australia to increase cooperation on foreign aid projects, Mr Pryke said.

In Papua New Guinea the two countries had worked together on a small program to prevent the spread of malaria.

Chinese government officials argue the policy is been driven by demand from local governments keen to improve the living standards of their people.

"We're trying to share some of our good experience," one official told a delegation of Australian journalists recently.

The tiny islands nation of Micronesia was a beneficiary of that approach, following its president's visit to China.

In discussions with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Peter Christian noted that coconut plantation production in Hainan Province far outstripped that of his own farmers.

Beijing stepped in to offer technical assistance, in the belief that it was "better to teach people how to fish, instead of giving them fish".

* Richard Lawson visited China as part of a media delegation sponsored by the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs.

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