Aid to the Pacific, whether it’s by way of buildings or other critical infrastructure, needs to be delivered in a sustainable manner and in accordance with the needs for the country.
For instance, in Samoa, aid assistance must be in response to what the people of Samoa need and that it does not leave them with a foreign debt they will not be able to manage.
The opinion was offered by the U.S. Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, Susan Thornton, when she was questioned about “chequebook diplomacy” in the Pacific.
Over the years, China has establishing quite a tight grip on Pacific Forum countries in terms of aid.
France’s interest in the region has become quite an interesting topic with Tahiti and New Caledonia’s renewed interest in the region and the Pacific Forum.
As for the United States of America, they maintain that they had never left the Pacific and they will always be around to help.
In Samoa for the 48th Pacific Islands Forum Meeting, Ms. Thornton who led the U.S. delegation said the issue of China’s rise in the Pacific is neither new nor surprising.
As a rising superpower in terms of economies, China’s influence is not confined to the Pacific.
“And we see that and it’s quite natural that China would be going out to look for economic opportunities reaching in for partnerships with governments and proposing projects,” she said.
“So I think to a great extent, this kind of appearance of Chinese investment in real estate and government project isn’t that surprising especially in the Asia Pacific region.”
Ms. Thornton highlighted the importance of quality infrastructure.
“What we want to make sure though in connection to these kinds of project is that they be done to a very high standard,” she said.
“That their projects are the kinds that we want, and that they’re being done in a way that they are sustainable with sustainable debt burdens.
“We want to ensure that high standards are followed in terms of economic sustainability. That’s what we’re mainly looking at.
“As long a country and partner in the region is able to give the rationale of the economical productivity and how it’s going to be sustained in the long term.”
Ms. Thornton said the U.S. welcomes China’s growing influence in the region.
It doesn’t stop them from doing what they are doing.
“We also have a lot of projects that we are supporting both in infrastructure but also in the mitigation for climate change and disasters.
“We can work together, we just need to keep an eye out and make sure this is done in a sustainable way.”
Asked if the U.S felt under appreciated by the Pacific given China’s meteoric rise, the senior official was coy.
“I don’t have a U.S. government view but I think we definitely want to make sure that countries are not going to end up in an unsustainable debt burden,” she said.
“We’re also looking at issues surrounding governance and good governance because ultimately, it’s going to be the people of Samoa and other places where these investments are being targeted that are going to have to take responsibility for those investments.”
Another member of the U.S. delegation, Matthew J. Matthews, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific weighed into the debate saying there are two elements to the issue.
“The absolute level of debt at the G.D.P. level and the other is what is the actual advocacy of investment the debt is being incurred for,” he said.
“That’s why Susan spoke about the point of sustainability.
“You can sustain the ultimate level of debt if the investment is going into productive assets that are actually bringing future cash flow for the country... it’s getting that balance right and it’s critical.”