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China sends Papua New Guinea a clear message on vaccines

By Jeffrey Wall - posted Friday, 12 February 2021


Since Papua New Guinea gained Independence from Australia 45 years ago relations have been remarkably smooth. The number of "incidents" could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Papua New Guinea has had diplomatic relations with the Peoples Republic of China since it gained Independence. Relations between the two countries have generally been harmonious leading to PNG signing up to China's "Belt and Road" agenda in June 2018.

But since then there have been two "incidents" one of which put a strain on the relationship, and a more recent one that has the potential to do so.

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During the APEC Leader's Summit in Port Moresby is late 2018, the then PNG Foreign Minister, Rimbik Pato, directly challenged what he saw as undiplomatic meddling by the PRC Ambassador in the drafting of the Summit communique. With President Ji, and a huge entourage, attending the Summit the PRC attempted to hijack the it.

To their credit, the Prime Ministers of Australia, New Zealand and Japan and the United States Vice President grabbed the initiative and reached an agreement with then PNG Prime Minister, Peter O'Neill, on a range of support programs for PNG, including expanding environmentally friendly electricity generation and distribution.

The Chinese delegation was absolutely furious – and for at least a short time relations between China and PNG "cooled" – but not for long!

Since then a series of "Belt and Road" initiatives have been agreed to between the two countries and any number of others have been foreshadowed, including the planned fisheries processing industry, and port, at Daru, the PNG centre nearest to Australia. Last weekend "The Australian" revealed an even more ambitious project for Daru had been lodged by a China-backed consortium.

But on the very same day the ambitious "ambit" Daru proposal was revealed the PNG Government was suddenly confronted with potentially a serious problem in its relationship with China.

For some time I have been getting reports that China was planning to involve Papua New Guinea in its own China Covid-19 vaccination program despite the widely held belief in PNG, and in the Australian Government, that PNG would gladly accept Australia's generous offer of vaccines, an offer that the Australian Government had made to just about all South Pacific nations.

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It is clear the PRC Embassy was well aware of discussions between PNG and Australia on the vaccines delivery program. That is hardly surprising given the massive influence Huawei and other China communications entities have in Papua New Guinea today.

Last Friday the PRC Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, spoke with the Acting PNG Foreign Minister, Rainbo Paita, and offered PNG a supply of covid vaccines produced by China. It can be safely assumed that the same offer will be made to other South Pacific nations.

In a tweet after the phone call, the Official Chinese spokesman, Zhao Lijian, released China's version of the conversation which included an acceptance of the Chinese offer by the PNG Acting Foreign Minister! Details were revealed by the ABC though regrettably most of the Australian media has ignored or missed the story.

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About the Author

Jeffrey Wall CSM CBE is a Brisbane Political Consultant and has served as Advisor to the PNG Foreign Minister, Sir Rabbie Namaliu Prime Minister 1988-1992 and Speaker 1994-1997.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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