'Ridiculous, prejudiced, ignorant': Ambassador slams criticism of Chinese aid

China’s Ambassador to Samoa, Chao Xiaoliang, has hit back at criticism that China's foreign aid programme is undermining the political independence of Pacific nations, describing it as ignorant or prejudiced.  

In an opinion piece published in today’s Samoa Observer, Ambassador Chao says claims that loans from China are a quid pro quo for recipient nations' political sovereignty are inaccurate "Cold War" thinking.

(Samoa is one of Beijing’s top three Pacific debtors, alongside Vanuatu and Tonga; 38 per cent of the Government’s $1.1 billion national debt is owed to China).

Earlier this month America’s recently sworn in Defence Secretary, Mark Esper, said China’s aid programme in the region was “using predatory economics” and “debt for sovereignty deals”.

But Ambassador Chao, who took over as China's top diplomat in Samoa in April, writes today: “The so-called 'China debt trap' is extremely ridiculous.

Rather than pointing fingers at China's good deeds, those who keep on making groundless accusations and speculations might as well do more themselves to provide help to the Pacific Island countries.

 “Some people [have] questioned the purpose of China's aid, even disregarded the facts and fabricated the so-called "China debt trap".

“This is either of prejudice or ignorant of China's foreign aid policy."

The piece comes after a week of diplomatic tension at the Pacific Islands Forum (P.I.F.) in Tuvalu.

China’s main rival in the region (and the Pacific's single largest aid donor), Australia, came in for heavy criticism from P.I.F. members for watering down commitments to phasing out coal power.

Beijing’s consequent promise to attach importance to the “legitimate demands” of P.I.F. member states on climate change was widely viewed in Australia as a Chinese diplomatic coup in the region and reportedly infuriated Canberra. 

In a veiled swipe, Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said his Government would work with Pacific states to “protect their independence, their sovereignty, in their region.”

But Ambassador Chao says that the argument that China seeks to impinge upon nations’ sovereignty with loans is not supported by evidence.

"China's foreign aid is offered on the basis of equality, with full respect for the will of the governments and people," he writes. 

“It comes without interfering in their domestic affairs or attaching any political strings."

Ambassador Chao further states that Chinese aid is dispensed transparently and with the aim of helping recipient nations achieve “independent and sustainable development”. 

The Ambassador cites research from the Australian National University which finds that China holds less than 12 per cent of debts owed by Pacific states. 

China spent about US$1.1 billion in aid in the region in the decade to 2016 (compared to US$5.2 billion by Australia over a similar period), according to figures from the Australian think tank Lowy Institute. 

The Ambassador characterises Samoan-Chinese relations as a friendship built on principles of “mutual respect, mutual trust and mutual support”.

The Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi said Pacific nations should not see foreign relations as a black-and-white choice and said Samoa would not line up with Australia and the United States against China declaring: "their enemies are not our enemies".

See more on page 10.

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