Report – By Rachel Reeves on Rarotonga
The Chinese government says it does not perceive US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit as a threat to its relations with Pacific Island nations.
Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai also told reporters on Rarotonga that China had no ulterior motives in providing no-strings-attached aid to Pacific countries.
This year, for the 23rd time, a Chinese delegation participated in the post-Forum dialogue.
“We are here to help island developing countries. If they [the United States] have the same intention, I don’t expect any major difficulties in working with them,” he said.
Pressed by reporters to explain how he interprets the US government’s decision to prioritise the Pacific Islands Forum – indicated by its decision to send Clinton rather than a lower-ranking diplomat – he refused to budge.
“I think Secretary [of State] Clinton is arriving in awhile,” he said on Thursday night. “You can ask her this question. I am not her spokesman.”
In fact, Clinton’s American Air Force jet was landing at Rarotonga International Airport around 10pm – the same time as the scheduled Chinese media conference.
Cui told reporters his government was not increasing its profile in the region as a means to “seek any particular influence”.
“We are here to work with island countries to achieve sustainable development because both China and the Pacific Island countries belong to the rank of developing countries,” he said.
“Although we are far away geographically, although we have different national conditions, we are faced with very similar tasks of achieving sustainable development, of improving the lives of our people, so in this regard there is great potential for China and Pacific Island countries to work together.”
He said China simply wants to “be a good partner for island countries”, and denied that his government has any ulterior motive.
“…We are not here to compete with anybody,” he said.
He said his government was willing to “exchange experience (and) views” with the United States and “to compare respective practice and where possible and feasible (work) with them” in the interest of helping Pacific Island countries to achieve sustainable development.
A state-controlled newspaper in China last week labelled the size of Clinton’s entourage and the security strategy for her Rarotonga “not appropriate”.
“The South Pacific has been at peace since World War II and has rarely been troubled with security problems. …This is not what they need. What they really need is investment and technology – something the US cannot offer them,” the article said.
Discussing aid, Vice Minister Cui said China was “not motivated by any self-centred grand strategy of [its] own” but by a “genuine desire to be a good partner for these [island] countries”.
China frequently provides grants and soft loans to island developing countries, including the Cook Islands.
Asked whether the Chinese government attached any hidden strings to aid and assistance, Tiankai said it did not.
Beijing formulates its aid strategy is in the name of “common development”, he said.
“We still have a huge task to reduce poverty at home but we believe in common development with our friends and partners in the developing world,” Cui said.
“Whatever we do with regard to financing cooperative projects, we will make sure that it will not add to their debt burden so we provide loans on very preferential terms.
“We never force them to repay if they’re not in a position to do that,” he said, adding that the Chinese government was “always ready to consider postponement or cancellation of debt”.
“We base our cooperation assistance to the island countries on their priorities, on their actual needs, so our projects are intended to respond to their immediate needs, to bring about tangible benefits to the local people,” he told reporters.
“I think our projects are welcomed by the people of the island countries.”
He dismissed questions about international criticism of his government’s aid strategy, which he said was largely based on assumptions and not “real facts”.
Rachel Reeves is political reporter of the Cook Islands News.