Scott Waide: How China is several moves ahead in Port Moresby

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Prime Minister of PNG Peter O'Neill shaking hands. Image: Solomon Kantha/My Land My Country

COMMENTARY: By Scott Waide

In November every year, the Papua New Guinean National budget usually takes centre stage. But not this year.

This week, the 2019 budget came two days before the start of the biggest meetings of APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation).  People were interested in it for a day, then it faded into the background.

Then BOOM… Enter China-US geopolitics…

On Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping, the most influential world leader in the Asia-Pacific arrived in Port Moresby with the largest delegation of officials.

They came on two large planes and the festivities for his delegation demonstrated just how important China’s money is to the Papua New Guinea ( government.

World politics is being played out on PNG soil. It already is, by the way.

From the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Singapore, US Vice President, Mike Pence indicated he would be revealing how “dangerous” the Chinese One Belt One Road Initiative is to the rest of the world including the Pacific.

Infrastructure projects
This announcement comes on the back of US$60 billion funding (about NZ$87 billion) aimed at the Asia-Pacific region. Also note that China has allocated the same amount to African countries for various projects including infrastructure.

Australia has announced its own funding initiatives for the Pacific of 7 billion Kina (NZ$3 billion).

In the foreign ministers’ meeting, the US-China tension is already being felt as the US and China tussle over free trade and other issues.

On the ground in Port Moresby, there is a strong US and Australian military presence.

From China, a strong trade presence and message about building relationships. From the outset, China appears to have all its moves planned out and is ticking off each item on its list of things to do.

At least for the government, the attention from world leaders is important. Maybe APEC is an opportunity.  Maybe it is a double edged sword – with opportunity on the one side and debt on the other as has been the case in other countries like Sri Lanka.

What stands out is China’s willingness to engage. President Xi is here for four days. America’s Trump and Russia’s Putin both sent their number twos.

As US Vice-President Pence, tweeted and jetted into Cairns, President Jinping met with Pacific Island Forum leaders and representatives in Port Moresby in the afternoon.

Scott Waide’s blog columns are frequently published by Asia Pacific Report with permission. He is also EMTV deputy news editor based in Lae.

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Scott Waide is the Lae bureau chief of EMTV News and began his career with EMTV in 1997 as a news and sports reporter and anchor and has been a media professional for more than 19 years. He has worked as a producer and researcher for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Port Moresby Bureau. Scott is also a recipient of multiple awards including the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union Prize in 2005 in Iran for best news feature.