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South Pacific waking to China’s ‘debt-trap’ diplomacy

Sep 8, 2018 by

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Nuku’Alofa is the Kingdom of Tonga’s capital and has population of just more than 20.000 people.

A brouhaha between Nauru’s leader and a China emissary at the Pacific Island Forum underscored rising anxieties about Beijing’s ambitions in the region

By Erin Cook –

The first round of bills are coming due for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) recipients in the South Pacific – and few can pay.

Squeezed by the costs of frequent natural disasters, crumbling infrastructure and low economic growth, the Pacific Islands are a natural fit for China’s US$1 trillion BRI global infrastructure-building ambitions.

Even small loans go a long way in countries like Tonga, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, but the ability to repay or negotiate refinancing is testing Pacific governments who must now make politically unpopular decisions to service the debts.

That pressure is clearly being felt in Nauru, one of the smallest of the Pacific region’s states. It butted heads with China this week as it hosted the Pacific Island Forum, an intergovernmental organization that aims to enhance regional cooperation.

The clash was ostensibly over a perceived as over-demanding China delegation, but the brouhaha also spoke to the frustration many states feel with China as it aggressively ramps up pressure on individual Pacific states to cut their diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Nauru President Baron Waqa refused to allow China’s representative to address the forum ahead of the prime minister of Tuvalu. Both Tuvalu and Nauru have maintained ties with Taiwan despite Beijing’s pressures.

Waqa said China’s lead diplomat, Du Qiwen, had been “very insolent” and a “bully”, according to a Reuters report of the incident. After demanding an apology, Waqa said “from this meeting in Nauru, going forward, we will not allow this kind of behavior in our Pacific meeting space,” the report said.

Source: South Pacific waking to China’s ‘debt-trap’ diplomacy | Asia Times

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