Australia's attitude to China "patronising and unfair" - Fiame

Deputy Prime Minister, Fiame Naomi Mata'afa, has called Australia’s attitude to China in the region "patronising and unfair".

Fiame is in Australia attending the Leadership for Inclusive Development conference as a speaker. 

She appeared on the ABC’s The World programme to speak with Foreign Affairs reporter, Stephen Dziedzic, on Australia’s Pacific Step Up and climate change policy.

Speaking to Mr Dziedzic, she said Australia’s discourse on China and Pacific relations is patronising towards the Pacific.

“Essentially we are being cautioned, we are being warned, we are being told perhaps we are not fully nuanced on the intentions of the relationship with China,” she said.

“But you know, Stephen, we’ve had relations with China since 1975. It’s not a new relationship.”

Fiame said China and Japan have been supporting Samoa’s infrastructure development projects for a long time. 

According to the Deputy Prime Minister, Australia is “being asked to play a particular role” in the region, especially in light of China’s Belt and Road initiatives.

Asked whether claims of ‘debt trap diplomacy’ are overstated, Fiame said at the end of the day, governments must make decisions for their people, no matter their size.

“I can appreciate where that may happen and there have been instances, where it has happened in the Pacific or looks like it is happening in the Pacific or other parts of the world. 

“It’s a bit unfair in that, it’s not as though Australia, or even the United States don’t have relations with China,” Fiame continued.

“In fact they have huge relations with China, especially on the trading side. 

“So in some ways, from the way we look at it, it’s alright for them to have relations but then for us we need to take the advice from someone else on how we conduct our relationships with other countries.”

Fiame also said Australia’s climate policies undermine the Pacific Step Up. While Australia has spent hundreds of millions in climate change adaptation measures in the region, “I think for any reasonable and intelligent people, it doesn’t offer an excuse not to get on board the climate change agenda,” she said.

New Zealand has decided to become carbon neutral by 2050, and Australia should be aligned in that effort, she said.

“We respect countries’ sovereignty and the decisions that they make but climate change is the issue that requires a global response. 

“So it's not only from a regional perspective or even national perspective but I think the whole world needs to come together on this issue.”

The Deputy Prime Minister said Australia needs to make real efforts to reduce carbon emissions by addressing the industries that produce those emissions, rather than enjoy the carbon mechanisms that allow “some measure of flexibility in meeting their goals.”

“It doesn't actually in a real sense achieve what is being asked of all of us in terms of our efforts towards reducing the emissions, and I don't think they can meet their commitments,” she said.

She said Samoa sees Australia as part of the Pacific collective, and would like Australia to view itself that way too.

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